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Indiana "Right to Resist" law raises questions

April 24, 2012|By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com) | WSBT TV Reporter

Tuesday marked a somber anniversary for the South Bend Police Department and a local family. It's the anniversary of the early morning Cpl. Nick Polizzotto and Ptl. Michael Norby responded to reports of shots fired on Lincolnway East in 2007. 

When the two officers tried to question Scott Barnaby in his room at the Wooden Indian Motel, Barnaby shot them both. Polizzotto died.

“This day always stinks,” said Polizzotto’s brother, Tony.  “That was the most surreal thing was going [to the hospital,] walking in first and seeing all of his friends and all of the cops that I know just in shock.  And when I saw their faces, I knew.  Nobody had to tell me.”

Five years later, Tony Polizzotto says he doesn’t agree with a new law that allows homeowners to use force – even deadly force – against an officer they believe is coming into their home illegally.

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“[It’s] an excuse [for homeowners] to actually use force when they may know in the back of their mind they could possibly get away with it.  That's horrible,” he said.

South Bend FOP Lodge No. 36 President Steve Noonan agrees. 

“The biggest thing is just to understand nothing has changed as far as when a police officer can enter a house, so citizens don’t think police officers never have a right to enter a house,” Noonan said.  “They do under a warrant, they do under exigent (emergency) circumstances.”

The controversial “Right to Resist” law stems from public uproar that began with a 2007 domestic violence call in Southern Indiana when a man shoved officers as they entered his apartment.  In that situation, police were acting legally.  They arrested him.  Last year, Indiana’s Supreme Court decided that allowing people to resist arrest in their homes “…unnecessarily escalates the level of violence…”  That ruling sparked outrage from people who felt it violated the U.S. Constitution and Indiana’s “Castle Law.”

Noonan says he wrote 76 lawmakers and the Governor urging them not to pass legislation in favor of homeowners who believe force is necessary to protect themselves from illegal actions by an officer. 

But Governor Daniels signed Senate Enrolled Act No. 1 into law last month.

Noonan and other officers worry the new law makes their jobs more dangerous.  In 2003, Noonan was shot in the leg while responding to a domestic violence call near Twyckenham and Ewing. 

Ironically, Nick Polizzotto won an award for helping Noonan to safety that night.   

The “Right to Resist" law only protects homeowners in certain situations.  When the Governor signed it, he said the right thing for citizens to do is cooperate with police in every way possible.  This law is not an invitation to use violence or force against officers, he added.

One large national organization that supports the “Right to Resist” law is the National Rifle Association – a group that typically backs police.  A statement on the NRA's website says the legislation is "crucial" to "protect Hoosiers' civil liberties.”

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak said he’s concerned the law may invite more violence in cases where police officers are not doing anything against the law, but citizens are breaking the law.  Dvorak said he specifically wonders whether this law will change the way officers respond to domestic violence situations.

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