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This week: We're following a few important stories around town, including the FWPD delaying the release of body cam footage from an officer-involved fatal shooting of a Black woman. We also update you on resident concerns regarding the mysterious Project Zodiac and share a new way to shop Downtown.
Plus, our to do list is full of holiday festivities and a can't-miss celebrity photo exhibit coming to Jeffrey Benjamin Hair!
Don't forget: This is your last week upgrade to a paid subscription, and claim a FREE side with the purchase of any rib or chicken tips at Brooks BBQ at Union Street Market. We'll have a new deal for paid subscribers next week. Upgrade today (for just $3 your first month) to get in on our offers!
Now, here's what's ahead:
- FWPD delays body cam footage release
- Project Zodiac update
- SACS DEI study results
- A new way to shop Downtown
- Hanson quarry tower updates
- USPS meeting reminder
- Eat: at Wing Etc.'s new location opening today
- Download: Visit Fort Wayne's FREE 2023 Fort Wayne Holiday Lights Challenge
- Cozy up: with "A Christmas Carol" performance in the Old Barn at Salomon Farm Park
- Drive: the annual (and expanded) Blue Jacket "Fantasy Of Lights"
- Treat yo'self: to Sassy Vegan's weekend stall at Union Street Market
- Listen to: live music by James and The Drifters with Anthony Giraldi
- Check out: retro photos of Glenbrook Square Mall
- Attend: "The View from Here" photo exhibit at Jeffrey Benjamin Hair
- Shop: a Holiday Art Bazaar at the University of St. Francis
Let's get started.
"Requests for body camera footage have either been denied or taken weeks to months to be approved and sent."
-WANE 15 outlines challenges with accessing the FWPD's body cam footage
Talk of the Week
The top story we're following.
Fort Wayne Police are delaying the release of bodycam footage of an officer-involved fatal shooting of a Black woman.
Fort Wayne Police Officer Mark Guzman fatally shot 20-year-old Dachena Warren-Hill around noon on Nov. 19 in an incident south of Foster Park. WANE 15 requested body camera footage of the incident, but last Tuesday, the City of Fort Wayne’s Law Department denied WANE's request, claiming the records are investigatory.
- What was the incident? On Nov. 19, officers were responding to reports of a fight near Winchester Road and Babcock Drive where "a gold car was repeatedly 'banging into a house,' and someone had been hit by the car." A Fort Wayne Police news release says Guzman shot at the driver, Warren-Hill, for trying to run him over. She died from multiple gunshot wounds, and her homicide was ruled a "police action shooting" by the Allen County Coroner.
- So why not release body cam footage? Indiana State Police Sgt. Brian Walker tells WANE releasing the footage right away can hurt an investigation. The shooting is currently being investigated internally by the Fort Wayne Police Department and externally by Indiana State Police, which the FWPD believes adds a layer of transparency to the process.
- Walker tells WANE: "From an investigative standpoint, we often lose control when we just let information out there too fast. We need to be able to control that information to ensure the integrity of the investigation itself. The public has come to want to see video, and they want it now, but that’s not the best thing for our investigators to be able to do a good, solid follow-up on evidence or leads they’re trying to follow up on.”
- Is this legal? Yes, due to Indiana's somewhat loose guidelines on body cam footage. House Enrolled Act 1019 (passed March 2016) allows the public to request body-worn camera recordings under the state’s open record laws, but makes exceptions for recordings that create a significant risk of substantial harm, are likely to interfere with a fair trial, may affect an ongoing investigation, or would not serve the public interest.
- What's unclear is: whether the FWPD will release the footage after the investigation is complete.
- In the meantime: citizens held a peaceful protest outside the Allen County Courthouse and FWPD Headquarters last Tuesday night, demanding more information and answers from police.
Why it matters
In 2021-2022, FWPD received significant taxpayer funding to upgrade and expand its use of body worn cams (BWCs), as a result of the Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice's work, highlighting transparency as an emphasis for the department. Yet, access to body cam footage in Fort Wayne still appears to be lacking, complicating transparency and citizen-police relations.
- WANE notes: the most recent incident involving Warren-Hill is not the first time a request for body cam footage has been denied or delayed by the FWPD. "In the past, requests for body camera footage have either been denied or taken weeks to months to be approved and sent."
- Last week: WANE detailed how citizens might go about requesting body cam footage in Fort Wayne, interviewing FWPD Public Information Officer Jeremy Webb, who says: “Sometimes the video can take a lot of time to prepare so there’s not a timeframe specified by law that you have to have these requests honored. We try to expedite it as much as we can, but sometimes, it’s just not possible with manpower and all the things we have to do.”
- This speaks to: broader, national issues with body cams. Namely, state laws vary widely on when and how the public may access footage, as demonstrated by the Urban Institute, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
- Indiana: is not among the least transparent states, but it law fails to "outline how and within what time frame footage will be released to the public," as recommended in a policy assessment by the Council on Criminal Justice's Task Force on Policing. The task force says: "Agency use of BWCs will best enhance transparency if video footage of high-profile incidents is released promptly to the public."
- Locally: there also appears to be a misunderstanding between police and the public about what transparency entails. While the FWPD may believe that adding Indiana State Police to an investigation improves transparency, this measure is likely to be viewed differently by the public, especially among People of Color. In light of recent national and local events, citizens are losing trust in any and all police agencies to police themselves behind closed doors, particularly in instances where People of Color are killed by officers.
- Some national experts in police accountability recommend: “When there is an officer-involved shooting, I think police departments should err on the side of releasing that footage after they’ve made sure privacy concerns are protected. There’s been so much distrust and a history of tensions between some communities and police. This can help the public in terms of increasing transparency.”
A few quick updates.
- The mysterious data center planned for Allen County continues to stir controversy, perhaps because it remains unnamed. The JG reports that "secrecy has heightened fears about environmental consequences, particularly high noise levels, exorbitant water usage and a strain on electric services." Nationally: water usage of data centers is a key issue to watch. However, other consequences of this development may be less harmful to residents and the environment than potential alternatives. As The JG notes, the proposed data center costing $1 billion "could bring in as much as $200 million over 10 years in tax revenue." This means: "The impact is comparable to that of a 1,700-job corporate headquarters," without the traffic and pollution of a worker-heavy HQ or manufacturing facility. Regardless, as the project progresses without full disclosure of who owns it, some residents say it's causing them to lose trust in the unnamed company and our local government for withholding information.
- SACS completed its DEI study with the controversial Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), and Superintendent Park Ginder says: "There was no aha moment, like, ‘Wow, we didn’t know that was happening.’" You might remember: the SACS school board hired FAIR to conduct a study on DEI within the district, following racial tension at Homestead High School, sparked by a student wearing blackface on social media. FAIR's study includes an overview of six listening sessions it conducted on student behavior, discipline, socioeconomics, district communication, mental health, inclusivity and racism. The JG reports that the blackface incident "came up in multiple conversations, generating 19 comments by students," with many asking for "more opportunities to discuss the events." Ginder says the report will guide plans and priorities for SACS going forward, but it's still unclear what those will be. Some residents, like JG editorial writer Christer Watson say hiring FAIR to do the study in the first place was a mistake because the group believes "race is a social construct," and it has no previous experience working with a district like SACS. "The district hired rookies," he writes.
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- There's a new way to shop and dine Downtown with a community-based gift card, good at about 40 participating locations. Just in time for the holidays, Downtown Fort Wayne launched its first-ever gift card for multiple shops and restaurants within its 99-block district. Buyers can gift the card to friends and family with a personal message via email, text or physical copy. The benefits? You can spend the money at multiple local retailers, and studies show supporting small businesses (rather than big box stores) ultimately builds a stronger local economy for everyone. Why? Local retailers recirculate about 47% of their revenue back into the community, while only 14% of national chains’ revenue stays local. When it comes to restaurants, the benefits are even greater. "They recirculate 73% of their revenue back into the community, versus only 30% for national chains," The JG reports.
- The old Hanson limestone quarry off Ardmore and Sandpoint Roads is getting upgrades and improvements to its observation tower. Officials with Heidelberg Materials company, which acquired the quarry in 2013, tell the Waynedale News that the current tower was built in 1950 and has stood over the giant quarry for decades, becoming a popular draw for locals and tourists alike. While exact plans for upgrades are still TBD, they promise to keep the new tower open to the public from dawn until dusk and free of charge. They just want to let residents know that if they see the tower closed in coming months, it's under renovation. “We just want people to know that there will be something coming,” officials say.
- Reminder: A public hearing on USPS plans to consolidate the bulk of Fort Wayne's mail processing efforts to Indianapolis is scheduled for tomorrow. You might remember: As we mentioned last week, this move is part of a national consolidation happening at more than 200 post offices and other USPS facilities. Early reports say: "impacted post offices will still conduct their retail operations, but many of the back-end functions will be stripped away and relocated," and "employee groups have criticized postal management for failing to detail the impact of the changes on the workforce." To learn more and ask questions about how your personal and business mail will be affected, attend tomorrow's meeting at 2 p.m. at the Allen County Public Library's Main Branch in Meeting Rm. AB. You can also submit written comments online through Dec. 14.
To do list
Our favorite things to do this week.
- Eat: at Wings Etc.'s new location on Illinois Road Southwest today, starting at 11 a.m. This is Wings Etc.'s fourth location in Fort Wayne, and its first 50 customers will receive one year of free wings. "This 4,500 square foot stand-alone store will be a flagship location for the company headquartered in Fort Wayne with 80 restaurants across 13 states," a press release says.
- Download: Visit Fort Wayne's FREE 2023 Fort Wayne Holiday Lights Challenge, and explore the city's most iconic light displays to earn points and win prizes. You can also vote for the city's best decorated Holiday Houses here, starting Friday-Jan. 11.
- Cozy up: with a BYO blanket performance of "A Christmas Carol" in the Old Barn at Salomon Farm Park. The production by Summit City Music Theatre runs now–December 10, every Thursday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. (with a 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 9 only). Tickets cost $25.
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- Drive: the annual (and expanded) Blue Jacket "Fantasy Of Lights," featuring more than 166 display scenes, including 9 new, large displays this year. Fantasy opens nightly at 5:30 p.m. now-Dec. 31. Admission is $15 per vehicle, with vans at $30 and buses at $60.
- Treat yo'self: to something sweet from the Sassy Vegan's weekend market stall at Union Street Market, which reopens Friday, featuring cookies, donuts, cupcakes and more.
- Listen to: live music by James and The Drifters with Anthony Giraldi on Friday at 9 p.m. at the Brass Rail. Cover is $10.
- Check out: retro photos of Glenbrook Square Mall circa 1970s. Who remembers the ice skating rink?
- Attend: "The View from Here" photo exhibit by celebrity/editorial photographer Brian Ach on Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at Jeffrey Benjamin Hair on The Landing. Ach's work has been featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Newsweek, and more. His exhibit features select photos from 1999-2023, plus local music by Davey Heritier of Davey's Delicious Bagels.
- Shop: a Holiday Art Bazaar on Saturday from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. at the University of St. Francis, featuring more than 30 booths of art by students, staff and faculty, plus live entertainment.
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Have a great week, Locals!
-Your Editor, Kara Hackett