Michael Taylor Jr., a 16-year-old Black youth, was shot and killed on September 24, 1987, while in police custody. The incident ignited community concern and symbolized the public relations problems between the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) and the African American community that had been building since the 1970s. The decade witnessed a high incidence of police shootings involving white officers and Black victims.

Michael Taylor, who died hours later while in police custody, standing in front of police car arrest scene at Louisiana and East St on September 24, 1987. Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

Taylor had been arrested for attempted car theft and, at the time of the shooting, was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police car in front of the Juvenile Detention Center. Police at the scene concluded that Taylor, while his hands were handcuffed behind his back, had shot himself fatally using a gun hidden in his high-topped athletic shoe. The victim’s family and African American community leaders disputed this explanation, believing that a police cover-up was involved.

The police investigation occurred amidst intense media coverage and pressure from African American community leaders. In an effort to gain public support and build communication with the African American community, Mayor WILLIAM H. HUDNUT III created a Human Relations Task Force to investigate the causes of the Black community’s mistrust of police.

On October 7, Police Chief Paul A. Annee held an unprecedented broadcast press conference to affirm earlier IPD conclusions that Taylor’s death was self-inflicted and that the two arresting officers had been negligent in their searches of Taylor. The following day, hundreds of African American citizens demonstrated outside IPD headquarters. Subsequently, a group of African American ministers hired a private investigator and demanded that both the Marion County Coroner and the U.S. Justice Department conduct further investigations.

All three investigations upheld IPD findings, but segments of the African American community remained distrustful and pressed for further investigation. Meanwhile, the Human Relations Task Force issued a report calling for changes in police training and arrest procedures. Few changes in the police department resulted. Instead, police officials emphasized training and community relations programs already in place. A municipal ordinance enacted in 1989 defined procedures to investigate similar future incidents, but city officials resisted the creation of a meaningful citizen review process of police-action shootings.

In 1996, a Hancock County jury ruled in a civil suit for the city of Indianapolis to pay the Taylor family over $4 million in damages. 

Revised July 2021

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