A suspended Indianapolis police officer is on the other side of the law after authorities say he grabbed a suspect’s genitals during an arrest.
Dark and grainy body camera recordings from multiple angles allegedly captured the Feb. 10, 2022 incident, as officers attempted to put a man later identified as Paul Johnson into a squad car. According to court documents on file in Marion County, Indiana, prosecutors say the videos contain evidence of three separate crimes: (1) official misconduct (a Level 6 Felony); (2) battery resulting in bodily injury (a Class A Misdemeanor); and (3) another count of battery resulting in bodily injury (another Class A Misdemeanor).
Then-officer Travis Lewis, 32, is listed as the named defendant. According to an information obtained by Law&Crime, Lewis is accused of battery “in the performance of his official duties,” thus resulting in the first count. The second count alleges that Lewis “did knowingly touch Paul Johnson’s genitals, resulting in bodily injury, that is: pain.” The third count alleges that Lewis “did knowingly touch Paul Johnson in a rude, insolent, or angry manner by throwing Paul Johnson to the ground while handcuffed, resulting in bodily injury, that is: a laceration and/or pain.”
An affidavit lays out the alleged facts of the case.
It says Johnson was the original 911 caller who brought officers to the scene. He said he was calling to “report a burglary in progress” at an Indianapolis address. Officers arrived and confirmed that no burglary was taking place, nor had one been attempted, the affidavit says. The officers decided to arrest Johnson based on what the affidavit says was an “incorrectly confirmed” protective order that purported to ban Johnson from being at the residence in question.
Local news reports from the Indianapolis Star and various local television stations said the protective order was not active; the underlying case had been dismissed. The police department blamed the courts for the mix-up.
Three days later, an officer “filed a formal complaint” against Lewis, the document states. The complaint accused Lewis of “unnecessary and excessive” force.
“This initial complaint outlined that Officer Lewis forcefully threw Mr. Johnson, handcuffed behind his back, to the asphalt outside a marked car without controlling his descent,” the affidavit says. “Additionally, this complaint alleged that Officer Lewis had his hand(s) in the area of Mr. Johnson’s genitals, covered by his boxer shorts, before Mr. Johnson verbally complained of pain.”
The officer who filed the complaint said “he/she” (the document purposefully obscures the complainant’s gender) saw Lewis “Reach towards (Mr.) Johnson’s private area and then twist his hand.”
“Johnson immediately started screaming,” the document continues. “A couple of minutes after on the video, [Mr.] Johnson made the statement, ‘my balls.'”
A Feb. 14, 2022 review of the video by a supervisor found that the video “appears” to show that Lewis “does grab the suspect’s genitals and apply pressure during the incident,” the affidavit indicates. The supervisor’s review also noted that Johnson “immediately screams out when grabbed by Officer Lewis.” The document also alleges that Lewis’s actions were determined by an internal review to be “unnecessary, excessive, and not proportionate to [Mr. Johnson’s] actions at the time” (brackets in the original).
A criminal investigation ensued; the bodycam footage of five officers was reviewed. It explains the broader interaction in detail and says Johnson repeatedly told the officers that no order of protection was in force against him.
“It becomes apparent that Mr. Johnson is defensively resisting officers’ attempts to secure him into the vehicle by first kneeling on the ground with his upper body face down on the back seat of the police car, just inside the rear passenger door, and then, later, by laying on the back seat with his legs extended while continuing to refuse to bend his legs and get into a seated position,” the affidavit indicates. But it also says that “[a]t no point” was “Johnson forcibly resisting officers” or “attempt[ing] injury upon them.”
Johnson’s pants began to fall down in the process.
“At approximately 1:23:27 into this video, Officer Lewis’s BWC [body-worn camera] shows Officer Lewis’s wrist (as evidenced by the opening of the glove worn and the gap at the start of the shirt sleeve) on top of Mr. Johnson’s right hip or hipbone and his hand in the area of Mr. Johnson’s genitals outside of the front of his boxer shorts below the navel,” the affidavit explains. “It appears that Officer Lewis’s hand is in a closed position and rotating in a twisting motion in this area while Mr. Johnson is yelling and shifting his body in response.”
Lewis “disengages” 12 seconds later in the recording, the affidavit states.
Then Lewis repeated the alleged conduct, per the affidavit:
At approximately 1:23:49, Officer Lewis reengages and tells Mr. Johnson to put his legs in while again placing his gloved left hand in the area of Mr. Johnson’s genitals and then closing his hand while Mr. Johnson begins to stream. At 1:23:54, Officer Lewis’s hand is clearly seen in closed position while holding an amount of boxer material and possibly a part of Mr. Johnson’s genitalia inside. Officer Lewis’s hand is illuminated by a flashlight that allows the viewer to clearly see his hand still in the area of Mr. Johnson’s genitals before he relaxes his grip and then begins pulling Mr. Johnson’s pants up to the area just above the knee at 1:24:01.
Johnson said he “cannot feel,” according to the affidavit. He also asked to go to the hospital because, in his words, “my balls is bleeding.”
“When Officer Lewis asks for clarification, Mr. Johnson reiterates, ‘my balls,'” according to the document.
The video later shows that Johnson “sustained an abrasion or laceration to the area of his right temple or eyebrow due to his falling to the ground,” the affidavit says.
One of the officers on the scene, Megan Clonce, said that Johnson “was not entirely cooperative” and suggested that Johnson “may have been under the influence of a narcotic.” She said she “knee striked” Johnson several times to get him into the squad car but that Lewis went further.
“I saw his hand like near his crotch area,” Clonce said, again per the affidavit. “[T]hought it was kind of odd you know, normally you don’t just stick your hand there.”
Clonce said Johnson tried to get out of the car after Lewis grabbed his gonads but that Johnson did not “attempt to move further or pull away.”
Still, Lewis is accused of then “very unexpectedly and forcefully” grabbing Johnson and throwing him on the ground. The force was powerful enough to take Clonce to the ground as well, the document states.
Johnson’s temple was cut, Clonce told department brass. He was bleeding.
The document contains yet another second-by-second description of what could and could not be seen in the shadowy and at times blurry bodycam video.
Another officer, John Hartley, said Johnson was uncooperative, that Lewis “grabs him,” and that Johnson “went to the ground” as Hartley was walking around the vehicle. Hartley said that his position made him “unable to observe specific points of contact” but said there was “a lot of movement going on.”
An additional officer, Jared Henry, said as follows: “I believe I saw Officer Lewis grab . . . Mr. Johnson’s . . . crotch area” (ellipses in original). “Mr. Johnson’s pants were down past his ankles, and he was just grabbing right up in like his crotch in the middle of his boxer, and it looks like he was like squeezing it.” Later, Henry corroborated accounts that Lewis “shoved” or “threw” Johnson to the ground after the alleged testicular torture.
In a subsequent statement, Johnson said he smoked marijuana, called 911 because of the aforementioned feared break-in-that-was-naught, and that, in the process, he resisted being put into a squad car. Then, he said, “they even squeezed my testicles” in reference to the arresting officers, according to the court paperwork.
Damon Young, an officer who was consulted about the use of force, was asked to review “the allegation that an officer used their hand(s) to grab and squeeze the genitals as pain compliance in order to elicit cooperative behavior.”
“Officer Young stated that there is the possibility that Officer Lewis had flesh from or parts of Mr. Johnson’s genitals inside of the boxer shorts that appeared to be gathered in his hand, but he cannot say so definitively because the genitals are not exposed, and contact would have been through clothing during this incident,” the affidavit reads.
Officer Young confirmed that officers are trained to restrain areas of the head and the pelvis as methods of suspect control, but a review of the video after shows that Mr. Johnson was not actively attempting to kick or otherwise injure officers and, as he was lying on the back seat with his upper body held by Officer Henry, there appears to be no need to place his hands near the pelvis to control Mr. Johnson.
Regarding the takedown of Mr. Johnson, after he exited the vehicle, Officer Young advised that in his view, the action would have been appropriate if (the fall) was controlled by officers. It is not known if (the fall) was controlled by officers. It is not known if Mr. Johnson’s feet were entangled with officers or if his pants being near his ankles impacted his balance, but in his view, there was not a deliberate effort to drive Mr. Johnson into the ground based on the limited video from BWC.
“Squeezing the genitals for the purposes of pain compliance is not an academy-taught technique,” Young said, again per the affidavit.
He added that the technique — “[w]ithout significant experience” — “would violate the use of force principles taught in the [IMPD] training academy” (brackets in original).
Johnson was taken to the hospital “in a state of agitation” where he was treated. Though both the officers on the scene, per the body camera video, and the affidavit indicate that officers suspected Johnson was on PCP, no toxicology test was administered at the hospital. A CT scan determined that there was “no evidence of intracranial contusion of hemorrhage.”
According to a court docket, an initial hearing for Lewis is scheduled for March 31 at 9:00 a.m.
Indianapolis FOX affiliate WXIN reported that that Lewis was initially placed on administrative duty but now stands “suspended without pay pending a recommendation for termination.”
Read the charging documents below:
[all images via court records]
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