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Parents say IMPD sergeant harassed Black kids on school field trip

Sanai Taziyah poses for a portrait May 28, 2024, at her Indianapolis home. (Photo by Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — Sanai Taziyah’s parents saw how excited the teenager was to explore Washington, D.C., during an IPS Center for Inquiry School 70 field trip last year.

But when her parents asked her about the experience afterward, Sanai broke down in tears.

Sanai, who was 14 at the time, told her mother that she had been harassed and mistreated on the trip by a school chaperone. As one example: She said the chaperone, who is white, said she and her friends, who are Black, were “lazy” and “slobs” when they refused to clean up a mess made by other students. 

Brandi Taziyah was outraged to hear her daughter describe being disrespected and subjected to racial stereotypes.

“To know that because your skin was darker and you have a different culture,” Taziyah said, “you were treated differently on a trip that’s supposed to be fun.”

The chaperone, however, isn’t just another school parent. She also is a 17-year veteran at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department who works as a sergeant on a unit that investigates child abuse.

When Taziyah and the other parents complained to the IPS school district about what she learned from her daughter, district officials said they couldn’t do anything because the police sergeant is not employed by the school district.

That’s when Taziyah decided to pursue another option: File a formal complaint to the city’s Citizens’ Police Complaint Office.

It was the beginning of a lengthy process that would require Taziyah to take several steps, and wait nearly 11 months, to learn that the Citizens’ Police Complaint Board found her complaint to be credible — and said the police sergeant violated an IMPD rule governing behavior when interacting with the public. 

Still, though, that officer has not faced any disciplinary action. That’s, in large part, because an IMPD internal investigation came to a different conclusion than the complaint board. 

IMPD Chief Chris Bailey declined an interview request for this article. So, too, did the police sergeant, whose name is Nicolle Flynn. 

But Flynn, a former social worker who has no disciplinary marks on her personnel record, sent a statement to Mirror Indy that emphasized she was on the trip as a parent, not a police officer. 

“I have missed out on events and holidays with my own children to be present for some of our city’s most innocent victims. The allegations made regarding my conduct are not an accurate reflection of who I am as a person and as a professional law enforcement officer,” Flynn’s statement read in part. “This should be a matter between parents and school administrators, not the police department.”

The experience raises questions about the responsibility of IMPD’s command staff to monitor the behaviors of their officers when they’re not in uniform. It also shows the limitations of the city’s process for providing accountability of officers who are accused of violating department policy.

It also illustrates why African American residents rarely bother to file complaints against police officers in the first place, said Rev. David W. Greene Sr., president of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. 

“Because even when you address the issues, nothing really happens,” said Greene, who also is senior pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries. “Why go through the process of doing this if nothing is going to happen to the officers?”

What happened during the trip

Throughout the four-day trip, Sanai said she and her friends were closely followed by Flynn, who told the eighth graders how to walk in a group and berated them in front of other students.

After other students created a mess during breakfast one morning, Sanai said Flynn and another chaperone would not allow Sanai and her Black friends to leave until they cleaned it up. 

The trip culminated in a chaotic evening bus ride on the way back to Indianapolis. Two other students got into an argument after one drank the rest of the other’s soda, leading one to throw the empty bottle at the other. 

In response, Sanai said Flynn yelled at the kids, waking up the IPS teacher who organized the trip. The teacher then ordered the bus driver to pull over and threatened to call the police, according to two students and one parent chaperone who was on the trip.

In the days following the trip, Sanai’s mother and several other parents met with the school principal to share their concerns about the behavior of Flynn and the teacher. 

In a statement to Mirror Indy, an IPS spokesperson said the school district conducted an investigation after hearing complaints from several parents. The investigation “revealed the need for improved communication during and after the field trip.”

The school principal also met with parents to address their concerns regarding the “behavior management approach” used by the teacher who led the trip, the statement read, though the district declined to issue any “formal employee discipline.”

It was around the time of the conversation with the school principal that Taziyah and the other parents learned the school district could not do anything about Flynn, since the police sergeant does not work for the school district. 

That’s when Taziyah decided to file the police complaint.

Filing a complaint about an Indianapolis police officer

Filing a complaint is a long and sometimes taxing process. 

To file her complaint in June 2023, Taziyah needed to get it notarized by a third party. Six months later, she and her daughter finally delivered statements to the Citizens’ Police Complaint Office, which is part of the mayor’s office and operates independently of the police department.

After a complaint is filed, an IMPD internal affairs investigator reviews the evidence, in some cases contacting the complainant for a follow-up interview. 

The investigator also requests an account of the incident from the police officer listed in the complaint. The results of the internal investigation are then sent to the Citizens’ Police Complaint Board, which makes a formal determination.

The board is composed of nine citizen voting members, two nonvoting police advisory members, and one nonvoting, rank-and-file consulting member.

In many cases, the board receives the findings of the internal investigation and agrees with its conclusion. But if the board disagrees, the board president and the office’s executive director meet with the police chief to discuss the disagreement.

That’s what ended up happening with Flynn.

Board members disagree with IMPD investigation

The Taziyah family received a letter in April 2024 from the complaint office stating that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the allegations.

So they had one option left: Directly make a case to the Citizens’ Police Complaint Board. 

“It’s a lot of effort just to get a little piece of justice,” Damon Taziyah, Sanai’s father, told Mirror Indy. “I’m disenfranchised with this process.”

It wasn’t until May 13, more than 10 months after the complaint was filed, that the Taziyah family could appear before the board. 

The board disagreed with the internal investigation’s findings, instead siding with the Taziyah family and voting unanimously to sustain the complaint — meaning the board members found there was clear and convincing evidence to prove the allegations against Flynn.

Brandi Taziyah, her voice wavering, once again recounted the events of that trip. Sanai told the board how she was expecting to have a fun time, but instead was left feeling “unwanted and uncomfortable.”

Board members agreed that Flynn violated Section VI of IMPD’s Rules and Regulations, which states that officers, when dealing with the public, “shall not use language or gestures which are rude, demeaning or affronting.”

Flynn was not present at the hearing.

Even though Flynn was not in uniform during the field trip, off-duty officers are still expected to conform to IMPD rules, IMPD Capt. Jim Roerig told board members.

Chief Bailey declined an interview request with Mirror Indy this week but said he is still reviewing the case, noting there is “rarely disagreement” between him and the complaint board. 

Still waiting

It’s been more than a year since the school field trip.

Sanai has since graduated from middle school and now attends Purdue Polytechnic High School. Taziyah, meanwhile, pulled Sanai’s younger sister out of School 70.

Now Sanai and Taziyah are waiting for resolution on the police complaint. 

“I feel that if you’re in a position of power that you should be watched,” Taziyah said. “You need people to oversee (you) and make sure you’re not abusing that power.”

This reporting would not happen without Indy Documenters, a network of engaged citizens who are trained and paid to take notes at public meetings across the city. Learn more here.

Peter Blanchard covers local government. Reach him at 317-605-4836 or Follow him on X @peterlblanchard.