MERRILLVILLE — When Indianapolis resident Gary Tindall was pulled over by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer in August 2017, he told the officer he didn’t know of any weapons in his Chevy SUV.
Tindall had been pulled over in Indianapolis’ near north eastside for failing to stop at a red light — a routine traffic stop for most officers. The responding officer collected Tindall’s Indiana I.D. card and took it back to his own marked police car to process. But when the officer saw Tindall reach for the SUV’s glove box, according to court records, the officer called for back-up.
Two additional officers arrived and helped detain Tindall while performing a “protective sweep” of Tindall’s SUV. Inside the vehicle’s locked glove box, officers found a large handgun and extended magazine and arrested Tindall on charges not only for driving with a suspended license, but also for carrying a handgun without a license.
Today, Tindall’s attorney is appealing the latter charge, claiming that the IMPD officer’s warrantless search of the SUV’s glove box was not a protective sweep but actually an unlawful search violating his client's constitutional rights — and that evidence obtained in the search should never have been used to convict his client.
A gymnasium full of Andrean High School students listened Tuesday morning as attorneys Michael Borschel and Matthew MacKenzie presented arguments in the case Gary Tindall v. State of Indiana to a panel of Indiana Appeals Court judges.
Three judges heard arguments in the case — a debate at its core that weighed protecting individual rights versus the safety of law enforcement officers. Tuesday's session is part of the court’s Appeals on Wheels program.
Alex Serrano, a senior at Andrean High School, likened the case to national reports of police brutality and law enforcement safety. He lauded the IMPD officer for taking steps to safely secure the situation without further escalation. Serrano added as someone interested in a career in law enforcement, bringing the oral argument, typically held in the Indiana Statehouse, to his school helped provide an education Andrean students couldn't typically receive in a classroom.
"It's a neat experience for someone who might not go to court," Serrano said. "It's nice to see how when you see things on TV, it gives a different perspective of debating that might not actually happen in court. It's nice what's actually happening in society."
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The program, at least 20 years old, has conducted more than 500 public oral arguments in 83 Indiana counties with the goal of educating Hoosiers about the role of the state judiciary.
“This is a great argument to have in front of a high school here,” Judge Nancy Vaidik of Porter County said during the oral arguments. “Because what we’re really doing here is pitting an individual right to be secure from unreasonable searches versus an officer’s right to protect himself.”
In the case heard Tuesday morning, Borschel, representing Tindall, presented his appeal of the Indianapolis man’s Level 5 felony charge, claiming the IMPD officer’s search of Tindall’s vehicle violated his client’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Both guarantee a citizen’s right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.
However, MacKenzie, a deputy attorney general, argued that past legal precedent exists where in Indiana, evidence collected in a protective sweep not initiated with the intention of arrest, is not subject to the Fourth Amendment. MacKenzie argued the responding IMPD officer actually intended to let the Indianapolis driver go with a warning until seeing him reach for the glove box which struck a fear of possible weapons in the vehicle.
"There's an important balance that needs to be struck between protecting both of those rights," MacKenzie said, agreeing with Vaidik, "The right to individual privacy and to be free from unreasonable search and seizures, and also the ability that needs to be afforded to law enforcement officers for them to be able to perform their jobs and perform them safety."
In the oral arguments, the judges questioned both attorneys on details of the case — Did the officer have reason to be afraid given the stop occurred at 3 a.m. in a high crime area? Was the officer aware at the time of the search of a gun holster lying in the SUV’s front passenger seat? Does the fact that Tindall’s glove box was locked create a more intrusive search?
The judges — Vaidik, Margret Robb of Tippecanoe County and Elizabeth Tavitas of Lake County — will publish their decision in a written opinion at a later date.