Just when you were hoping that the legislative session in Indianapolis would be over before our elected officials could do any more damage, the Indiana House approved on a 74-24 vote a measure that would allow Hoosiers to legally defend themselves against police officers who enter their home.
The measure, known as Senate Bill 1, is a naive and dangerous knee-jerk reaction to an Indiana Supreme Court decision last year. The court ruled that homeowners do not have the right to use force against law enforcement officials whom they believe are illegally entering their homes.
That decision came in the case of Richard Barnes, 57, an Evansville man who filed a lawsuit against police who followed him into his house Nov. 18, 2007, while they were responding to a domestic dispute Barnes had with his wife.
According to the Evansville Courier and Press, proponents said the measure provides police with additional legal protection, while affirming the “castle doctrine” idea that homeowners have the right to resist anyone, including police, who invades their homes.
In a rare appearance on the House floor, Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, urged the chamber to approve Senate Bill 1.
“What we’re doing here is we’re writing a jury instruction. We’re writing an appellate standard to see who’s responsible; who has a defense,” he said.
“What this says is when it does get to the courts and the courts have to sort out who’s right, who’s wrong, this clarifies that we’re back to the same standard we had in this county, in this state, for more than 200 years,” Bosma said.
Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said the measure would help Hoosiers who would otherwise “lose freedom” to “the coercive power of government.” He said without action, police officers who kill citizens in their own homes would be protected.
“We can’t kid ourselves – it is as powerful as ever, and without undoing the Barnes decision, it has crept into our home in a way that is wildly unpopular in our communities,” he said.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the measure protects Hoosiers from “rogue cops,” but said he thinks there will be few instances when police improperly enter homes, or where Hoosiers use force against police officers because of the measure.
“I admit that the number of times that is going to happen in our state is going to be infinitesimally small,” he said. “I’m not concerned that we’re going to suddenly have meth-heads sitting in their La-Z-Boy with their shotgun and SB 1 in their hand.”
Pierce, one of the House’s most liberal members, drew laughter when he said it felt uncomfortable to be casting a vote that the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist approved of.
Rep. Mike White, D-Muncie, said he could not vote for the measure and then return to his district and look police officers in the eye.
Rep. Craig Fry, D-South Bend, said the bill “is going to cause people to die.”
“And it’s too late after somebody dies for a jury to sort it out. Somebody’s going to die, whether it’s a police officer or an individual who thinks a police officer is entering their home unlawfully. People are going to die,” he said.
Rep. Linda Lawson, a Hammond Democrat who has worked as a police officer and has trained other law enforcement officials, said she believes the measure would create an “open season on law enforcement.”
She said the measure is opposed by “1,250 state police officers and 14,000 men and women in blue, brown and green.”
The bill now returns to the Senate. That chamber could approve it in the form that passed the House, or the House and Senate could have a joint committee try to hash out the differences before sending it back to both chambers for final approval.
Hundreds of Hoosiers call 911 for help every day. The caller may have been an abused spouse or a neighbor who suspects that children are being starved and beaten by their parents. When those calls come in the officers must have a means of determining that everyone is safe.
Since most police officers take their duty to serve and protect very seriously, few will walk away from trouble just because somebody won’t cooperate. Ultimately, the police always win on the street. If this law passes it’s not the officers who are going to get hurt.
• Tom Kelley of Kokomo is a retired Kokomo police officer.