Sheriff, black motorist reconcile after disputed arrest in Valparaiso | WBEZ
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Sheriff, black motorist reconcile after disputed arrest in Valparaiso

A controversial arrest in the city of Valparaiso, Indiana, in August has been resolved amicably, and could serve as a model for easing tensions between law enforcement and communities of color nationwide.

On Tuesday, Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas and local resident Darryl Jackson, Jr. issued a joint statement that they said was the result of a collaborative dialogue.

“In it we offer some reflections on what happened the evening of August 29th, 2015,” the three said in a written statement. “We moreover seek to bring closure to this episode by pursuing true reconciliation, which is more than simply the papering over of differences.”

The 24-year-old Jackson, who is African-American, was arrested on Aug. 29 in the mostly white, affluent city of Valparaiso for resisting arrest and failing to identify himself. He was parked along a residential street waiting for a friend to come out of a house when police approached him.

In a police dash-cam video released to local media, Jackson asks the arresting white officer why he is being targeted. The officer, part of a Porter County gang task force asks the man to get out of the car and then asks for identification.

Jackson refused and was arrested soon after. At the time Sheriff Reynolds, who oversees the gang unit, said the officer did nothing wrong.

A few days later after the Porter County prosecutor’s office declined to pursue criminal charges, Mayor Costas called into question the professionalism of the arresting officer.

In the weeks that followed police groups condemned Costas’ “rush to judgment” while a group of local activists and students at Valparaiso University defended Jackson. Tensions came to a head last month at a packed meeting of the city's Advisory Human Relations Council which was considering a resolution on the matter.

But now, all sides seem to be moving on.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for officers of the law. I went to school in suburban Detroit, where I interacted with the police daily and was always taught to be respectful of those trying to do a difficult job,” Jackson stated. But I am not perfect.  On the evening of August the 29th, 2015, my flaws presented themselves in a way that I was unaware was even possible. During my interaction with Officer Lucas and the other officers on the gang task force, I was overcome with fear, which led me to act in ways that I regret.”

Jackson went on to state that the experience had left him “eager to help other people see that it is on all of us to stop the cycle of disrespect.”

Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds and local resident Darryl Jackson, Jr. (Photo courtesy of City of Valparaiso)
Sheriff Reynolds said he accepted Jackson’s apology.  

“The truth is, we know that we can do better too. I have always believed that every interaction with citizens is important and that my department has an obligation to be tactically sound, critically aware, and constructively engaged with the communities we serve,” Reynolds stated. “We are dedicated to Porter County and strive for excellence in everything we do.”

Heath Carter, a history professor at Valparaiso University, was among the community leaders who helped foster a dialogue between the different camps. “Everyone admitted they could do better,” Carter said, calling the final statement “a remarkable document.”
 
“These are difficult issues not just in Valpo but around the nation,” Carter added. “The community was able to come together and have a meaningful conversation about our hopes and expectations for the way law enforcement happens.”
 
In the statement, Reynolds seemed to concur: “As a result of these conversations, I have come to see that my officers must be better equipped to understand the ways that our own implicit biases inflect our work, as well as the ways that citizens’ backgrounds impact their perceptions and experiences of law enforcement.”  
 
The sheriff promised to hold quarterly dialogues with residents.
 
Mayor Costas, meanwhile, hopes Valparaiso, a city with a history of racial strife, can learn from the episode.  
 
“The strength of a community is tested by its ability to work through tough issues in a spirit of understanding and respect, Costas stated. “We have a remarkably diverse and talented citizenry here in Valparaiso and in Porter County, and we benefit every day from the dedication, character, and sacrifice of law enforcement personnel whose efforts are essential to the flourishing of our communities. Together, we can and will lead by example, and through our efforts this city and this county will continue to be known as places of peace and prosperity for all people.”

Jackson Reynolds Costas Joint Statement

WBEZ’s Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.

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