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Doug Carter discusses ISP actions on Indiana University campus

Editor’s note: This post was updated to correct Carter’s title.

Following criticism from local government officials about the police response to protests on the Indiana University campus, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter answered questions about de-escalation, rooftop snipers and hate speech.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

On how Indiana State Police responded and local reaction

The Herald-Times: Several local government agencies and other organizations have strongly condemned both the IU administration as well as the state police response to the protests at IU. What’s your response?

Doug Carter: First of all, the vast majority of the people that are signing these documents weren’t there. So it’s easy to criticize something that you don’t understand.

And quite frankly, considering the violence or the homelessness, and the encampments within the city of Bloomington, you’d think there’d be better communication between the city of Bloomington and IU. But what I found is there’s a significant divide and I’m not sure what reasonable person could have been there on Thursday or Saturday and watch what’s happening at campuses around this country and not be disgusted.

Our job is to protect all people and to protect free speech, but we will not allow crimes to be committed in our presence.

I’ve had conversations with the prosecutor there with her chief deputy. They were aware of what we were doing before Thursday and we explained to them the why and everything that we were doing. So we didn’t do this with a blindfold or in a vacuum. There was tremendous thought put into what was about to happen and what we thought we had to do.

Any notion that we didn’t try and de-escalate this, the community is owed an apology from anybody that says that. We worked tirelessly to de-escalate this.

I talked to the mayor. I think the mayor indicated to me that she’s seeing things differently after talking to me. I spoke to State Sen. Shelli Yoder, State Rep. Matt Pierce and the list goes on and on. And I made myself available to faculty that were actually there at the protest.

So rather than to be critical of everybody, I think we probably ought to take a peek in the mirror and come to the table together to see what maybe we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

Pam Whitten, from Indiana University, was a marvelous partner. And I think it’s awful that she’s being so personally attacked for doing what she thought was right. She was the one who was asking us very complicated questions about the why and what we would do and we explained all the way down through all of those steps. So I hope the critics understand that.

The vast majority of residents that live on the IU campus and have visited Dunn Meadow, and I happen to be one of them, are not in support of what’s happening here. Because it’s become something different than peaceful protests. Anybody that says it’s peaceful is misinformed or is not paying attention to the truth.

On policy changes on the eve of the initial protest

H-T: Talk about some of those specific incidents that led to the arrests. From what I heard, there was a lot of confusion about what the protesters were allowed to do and what they weren’t allowed to do.

Carter: The only confusion was they wouldn’t listen. We attempted to negotiate that. I attempted to negotiate that myself with two professors. And all I said was please, please calm this down, remove the tents, and if you don’t, you have been given a trespass order. If you don’t peacefully exit the property, then we will take these tents.

There’s a notion out there that there was no de-escalation. What does a rational person expect us to do? I’m going to refer you back to the rest of the country. Do you want us just to walk away and let mayhem happen?

H-T: Several of my colleagues and I have been out there, what people are doing is they’re sitting in camps and they’re chanting. What’s the mayhem that would have occurred if you had stayed away?

Carter: They’re in violation of the rules. That’s why we got called in.

H-T: The rules were changed the night before. And that’s where there was confusion about what they were allowed to do.

Carter: Wait a second, wait a second. The rule of tents was changed. Overnight never changed.

H-T: Yeah, the rule of tents during the day was changed, right? And that’s why there was confusion about whether people were allowed to have tents or not.

Carter: But not overnight. That rule never changed.

H-T: But what happened was during the day. They had tents during the day and that was the issue. They were arrested during the day.

Carter: But how long had those tents been there?

H-T: I think they were put up that morning. And it doesn’t matter when they were put up. At the point that people were arrested, it was during the daytime. And the tents traditionally had been allowed during the daytime, and only the night before, the rules were changed so that they needed prior approval. Isn’t that what caused the confusion?

Carter: Again, that’s your perspective. I disagree.

H-T: How do you expect people not to be confused if for decades they have been allowed to have tents during the day and the night before …

Carter (interjects): How about you let me explain?

H-T: You said there was no confusion.

Carter: From my perspective, there was not, because of the way we were directly communicating with the folks that were there. IU told us that those people on Dunn Meadow in the tents, overnight and are trespassing and they need to be removed.

H-T: Overnight I totally understand, but the situation started on Thursday during the day. People were setting up tents during the day, and during the daytime, the tents were being removed.

Carter: Yeah, well, there was Thursday, that we were there for the first time. We were there again on Friday night. And then we went back on Saturday, so we gave them adequate time. I don’t think there was any confusion about that overnight issue.

H-T: I’m not talking about overnight … 

Carter (interjects): Listen, we were going to do this on Friday night, but I just wouldn’t subject my troopers to that when it’s dark.

H-T: I think the issue that people are having is that there are a lot of people who were arrested during the daytime. And going back decades, people had been allowed to use tents during the daytime, and that rule was changed the night before the protests on Wednesday evening. And so people were confused on Thursday during the day when they put up the tents.

Carter: They weren’t arrested for camping. They were arrested for trespassing. The ISP is not going to focus on administrative rules. That’s not what we do. We enforce state law. 

H-T: But didn’t they have the right to be there? I mean, why the trespassing charge if it’s about tents?

Carter: We’re talking circles. I’m not going to continue.

H-T: That’s fine. We can go on.

On hate speech and free speech

H-T: So I wanted to talk specifically about some of the hate speech that the people have said they heard.

Carter: I said all I’m going to say about that.

H-T: You’re not going to say anything else about hate speech?

Carter: There was plenty of it there, and I’m not going to say anything else about it. I’m not going to continue to sensationalize it, because there are people who’ve actually said that none of that occurred and that’s just inaccurate. So, next question.

H-T: Well, I mean that’s part of …

Carter (interjects): I’m not going to talk about that anymore.

H-T: Do you think hate speech is a violation of the law?

Carter: The First Amendment to the Constitution is not endless.

H-T: Right, but you said in a radio interview with WFIU that hate speech was against the law, which I think it isn’t. So I’m wondering if you can clarify your statement there.

Carter: Let me just say, it was incitement. Trying to cause physical encounters. Trying to not comply with lawful commands.

H-T: What day were you there?

Carter: Saturday.

H-T: So on Saturday, there were people using speech to try to cause physical encounters with others?

Carter: Threatening the life of others. Threatening the … or encouraging the elimination of the Jewish population.

H-T: And you think under Indiana law that’s not allowed?

Carter: We are Hamas. Intifada.

H-T: And you think those kinds of statements aren’t allowed …

Carter (interjects): Listen to me, you’re obviously stirring this drink.

H-T: I’m not stirring anything. I’m writing a story about one of the major issues that is happening on campus.

Carter: There’s no rationalizing with you people. I don’t understand that. I’m trying. So unless maybe I can say something that might cause the campus to heal. How about we talk about that issue?

H-T: Sure, go ahead.

Carter: Your question. I’m the superintendent of the state police. Ask me a question about it.

H-T: Well, I mean, you brought up the issue. What do you think should happen?

On the majority response, de-escalation and possible return

Carter: I think what has to happen is we need to put politics and ego at the door. I think we need to come to the table from the university, from the city’s perspective. I told the mayor this. I told the state senators this. And sit down and forget about the nonsense. We have a responsibility to everybody on that campus. And this is so narrowly focused to a small group of people. No one talks about the effects this has had on the majority of people.

H-T: The majority of the people appear to be appalled by what’s happened over the last few days and they think that the police shouldn’t even have been here and that it should have been an IU matter and state police should have stayed away just like they stayed away in West Lafayette.

Carter: Well, at West Lafayette they followed the rules.

H-T: They have camps there, don’t they?

Carter: They follow the rules. This conversation is not going anywhere. I’m committed to the university, to the safety of those students and everybody that lives there. If people want to be upset with me they can be upset with me. We tried very hard to de-escalate this, so that we would not have to do what we did.

H-T: Do you still have state police presence on the campus or do you plan to have them back? Have you been asked to come back?

Carter: In this capacity, we have not.

H-T: But if they asked, you would?

Carter: 100%.

On ISP use of force on campus

H-T: Do you want to say anything specifically about the comments that your approach has been heavy-handed?

Carter: I’m sorry folks feel that way. We went through very similar circumstances in 2020.

H-T: You mean during BLM protests?

Carter: Yes. Generally people that criticize use of force have never been in a use-of-force situation. And I worry about things that most people don’t. Sorry to get short.

H-T: I understand it’s a difficult subject to talk about. You mentioned de-escalation efforts. Can you talk a little bit about what all you did to de-escalate?

Carter: I had no intention of doing that at all myself. Cathy (unintelligible) and Ben Hunter from IU had been talking with folks and directly engaged them as I did on Saturday afternoon. We were imploring people to please cooperate with this trespass order. Once that’s done, we’ll sit down with the university to figure out what the next logical steps might be. So we implored them, we begged them, we pleaded with them to do that.

H-T: And this trespass order came from where?

Carter: That was read to the group by IUPD. Even before that, we were talking with the organizers there. And let me say, many of the people were very polite, but the agitators were the ones that really escalated this. In the future what I hope to happen is these disparate groups of people can come together and come up with a reasonable conclusion. And I really believe that can happen. But if there’s going to be a radical opinion out there and that they’re going to be martyrs and want to get arrested and want to cause harm, that’s not OK.

H-T: Were they trespassing because they had tents or because they were present at Dunn Meadow?

Carter: I don’t have it in front of me. It was read to them. You can get it from IUPD. It was read over the bullhorn. And I think everybody was given 10 or 15 minutes to peacefully and safely egress.

On the overwatch atop the Indiana Memorial Union

H-T: One other thing that people have talked about here, and I think you’ve addressed previously, is the marksman on the roof. Is that standard procedure? Give me the rationale for that and where else that’s done.

Carter: I’ve explained it to a lot of people. And most people that have said, OK, that makes sense. Again, could we have done better there? Yes.

But here’s why. There’s overwatch at almost any large public event. There’s overwatch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There’s overwatch at events in downtown Indianapolis. And I think that most reasonable people would expect for us to be prepared for just about any scenario.

You don’t have to look far to find an event of mass murder in this country. As a matter of fact, Indianapolis had three of them in three weekends. So our job is to protect everybody that’s there. And that overwatch is very, very important with human eyes. And again, it’s very standard that we do this.

This wasn’t just because of the folks that were in Dunn Meadow. But it gave us a real-time view. It’s not hard to see somebody acting aggressive – nobody did. We didn’t find any guns in there. But if someone had displayed a handgun or a rifle, imagine the chaos that would have ensued. The lateral view was one view, eye to eye, overwatch, it kind of became a quote sniper position, which it could have been, but that was not its intent. And the intent was to protect everybody that’s down there with a set of human eyes. I hope that maybe helps a bit.

H-T: I think people were under the impression that was unprecedented. 

Carter: Oh gosh, no. Not at all. In fact, it’s very standard protocol.   

H-T: So it’s primarily like a reconnaissance position?

Carter: Yes, it’s to view actions of people that are down below.

H-T: And then you have a rifle to potentially intervene if you need to?

Carter: Yes, exactly right. And again, sorry for being short with you. Everybody’s on edge. That’s normally not me. I appreciate what you’re doing. You didn’t deserve that.

Boris Ladwig can be reached at [email protected].