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Jury Rejects Police Claim Handcuffed Suspect Shot Himself

March 21, 1996 GMT

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Police said 16-year-old theft suspect Michael Taylor Jr. somehow shot himself to death while handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

An all-white jury didn’t buy it, ordering the city Thursday to pay $4.3 million to the boy’s mother. Black activists hailed the decision as proof that two white officers had murdered the black high school student.

Police maintain that the teen-ager shot himself with a gun hidden in his high-top sneakers. City officials said they would appeal.

``We still believe that (he) shot himself,″ said city attorney Sue Beesley. ``The facts haven’t changed since 1987. There’s been nothing change that would warrant anything different, any further investigation.″

The Marion County Coroner ruled the death a suicide and both officers denied shooting Taylor, saying they had somehow missed the gun while searching Taylor after his arrest.

Penniston testified that as he pulled into the parking lot of the Marion County Juvenile Center, he heard a ``pop″ and found the teen unconscious and gripping the revolver.

But a jail inmate testified he saw an officer shoot the teen in a squad car at the scene of the arrest.

The case was fueled by longstanding complaints that Indianapolis police treat blacks harshly. Last July, alleged brutality during a drug investigation triggered two days of violent demonstrations and a two-day suspension for a police sergeant for using improper force.

The two officers accused in the shooting of Taylor, Charles F. Penniston and Edwin M. Aurs, were suspended for one day with pay in 1987 after black leaders marched in front of police headquarters. They are still with the force.

Thursday, U.S. attorney Judith Stewart said she would review transcripts from the Taylor trial to see if a criminal investigation should be opened.

Meanwhile, black activists applauded the suburban Hancock County jury for rising above race in the civil rights lawsuit.

``An all-white jury and a white judge proved that the overwhelming citizens of this great country ... are for the most part God-fearing, fair-minded, just human beings who are capable of rising above superficial differences to support and embrace what is right and just,″ said Muhammad Siddeeq.

Siddeeq, a teacher, tutored Mike Tyson during the boxer’s prison sentence in Indiana on a rape charge. In that case also, some black leaders maintained that Tyson was dealt with more firmly because of his race and celebrity.

Taylor’s mother, Nancy Taylor, sued the city as well as the two officers, and was awarded about $2.1 million in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages and $1.2 million for negligence.

During the five-week trial, the jurors _ five women and one man _ heard testimony from 37 witnesses, including conflicting ballistics testimony.

A pathologist and firearms expert said the bullet recovered from Taylor’s head was fired at point-blank range from a .32 caliber handgun found in Taylor’s hands. But an Indianapolis gun shop owner testifying for the family said the revolver was fired from a distance greater than 2 feet. He also said the bullet may not have come from the revolver.

Police went to great lengths to demonstrate that Taylor could have shot himself, producing three videotapes showing that a person handcuffed behind the back was capable of pulling a gun from his shoe and aiming it at his head.

They maintained that Taylor _ who was awaiting sentencing on another auto theft charge _ was despondent after his arrest and did not want to return to the Indiana Boys School.