FedEx mass shooting victims ask city for $2.1M over red flag failure

The gunman legally bought the two rifles used in the shooting, despite having a gun taken away from him a year earlier

By Tony Cook and Johnny Magdaleno
The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Several members of the Sikh community who were injured or lost family members during the FedEx shooting are seeking compensation from the city over the failure to file a red flag case against the shooter.

An Oct. 12 letter from the victims' lawyers to city attorneys shows Harpreet Singh, Lakhwinder Kaur and Gurinder Bains are each requesting $700,000 in damages from the city. IndyStar obtained the letter through a public records request.

Members of the Greenwood community, along with representatives of The Sikh Coalition gathered for a vigil on April 22, 2021 in Greenwood to memorialize those that died in a fatal shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis in March 2020.
Members of the Greenwood community, along with representatives of The Sikh Coalition gathered for a vigil on April 22, 2021 in Greenwood to memorialize those that died in a fatal shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis in March 2020. (The Indianapolis Star)

Lawyers representing the victims said the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office violated a requirement in Indiana's red flag law when they decided not to file a case with the courts to suspend the killer's gun rights in March 2020. The victims claim the law doesn't give authorities discretion, meaning they must file such cases with the courts.

Indiana's red flag law, among the first of its kind in the nation, allows law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms without a warrant from people who they believe are a danger to themselves or others. A judge then sets a hearing to decide whether the person is, in fact, dangerous. If so, police are allowed to keep the weapons for at least six months and the person is prohibited from purchasing or processing firearms.

[RELATED: Should police be allowed to seize guns from the mentally ill?]

More than a year before the FedEx shooting, police removed a shotgun from the killerafter he threatened to commit "suicide by cop." Because no red flag case was filed in court, he was later able to legally purchase the two rifles he used to carry out the FedEx massacre. The shooting left eight people dead and injured at least five others.

"All three of our clients suffered losses as a result of the underlying failures of the Marion County Prosecutor's Office that could have prevented the mass shooting incident," the letter says.

The letter serves as a tort claim notice, which is the fist step toward a formal lawsuit. Indiana law requires claims against government entities be made in writing within 180 days of the loss or injury.

"We are statutorily required to provide adequate notice to the City of Indianapolis and Marion County within a certain time period to protect our clients' rights if they decide to move forward with a lawsuit related to last April's tragedy," said Amrith Kaur Aakre, legal director for the Sikh Coalition and one of the attorneys representing the victims, in an emailed statement to IndyStar.

[RELATED: Gun-violence restraining orders: How red flag laws work]

"Accordingly, we submitted this notice of claims last month to meet that obligation," she said. "We remain in close conversation with our clients about their injuries and ongoing needs as we continue to chart the course forward and work on these matters."

IndyStar sought a response to the victims' claims from Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, but their offices declined to comment. IMPD Chief Randal Taylor did not respond to IndyStar's request for comment.

'Physical and psychological injuries'

The claim letter describes the injuries and losses of those seeking compensation from the city.

Singh was shot in the head during the April 15 shooting. The bullet is still lodged in the left side of his head between his ear and eye. His injuries resulted in "hospitalization, multiple surgical procedures, extensive rehabilitation, inability to work at full capacity, and continued physical and psychological injuries," the letter says.

Kaur was grazed by a bullet on her left underarm. She was standing behind Jaswinder Singh — Bains' father — when he was fatally shot, and now has psychological distress, the letter says.

Bains is requesting compensation on behalf of his father's estate.

"Claimants are also open to a combination of monetary and non-monetary relief that adequately compensates them for their injuries while also preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future," the letter says.

The victims are being represented by Amandeep S. Sidhu of the Washington D.C. law firm, Winston & Strawn LLP. The Sikh Coalition is acting as co-counsel.

Four of the eight people killed in the shooting were members of the Sikh community: Amarjeet Kaur Johal, Jasvinder Kaur, Jaswinder Sing an Amarjit Sekhon. Karli Smith, Matthew R. Alexander, Samaria Blackwell and John Weisert were also killed.

Mears, the county prosecutor, said after the shooting his office didn't have access to the evidence it needed to successfully bring a red flag case against the shooter in court. He also pointed to loopholes in the red flag law, like the fact that people involved in red flag cases can still purchase a firearm while their case is pending.

"I think people hear red flag and they think it's the panacea to all these issues. It's not," Mears said on April 19. "What it is is a good start where there's a number of loopholes and the practical application of this law does not necessarily give everyone the tools they need to make the most well-informed decision."

Reporting by IndyStar following the shooting revealed that law enforcement and mental health care workers were informed numerous times about the shooter's mental health distress and propensity for violence prior to the shooting.

In 2013, police were called to his house after his mother alleged he punched her in the face and stabbed her with a kitchen knife. In the weeks before the shooting, he told social workers at Eskenazi Health that he had attempted to commit suicide and had no empathy for anyone.

He also made multiple comments to law enforcement defending white supremacism, his mother told IndyStar. When they removed his shotgun in March 2020, police officers said they observed what they believed was white supremacist material on his computer.

The FBI and Indianapolis police later concluded that the FedEx shooting was not racially motivated.

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