Authorities Did Not Try to Use ‘Red Flag’ Law for Indianapolis Gunman

Citing shortcomings of the state’s “red flag” law, the local prosecutor explained why he did not seek a ruling last year that would have barred Brandon Hole from possessing guns.,

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INDIANAPOLIS — Prosecutors never sought to invoke a “red flag” law that would have kept Brandon Hole, who shot and killed eight people before killing himself at an Indianapolis FedEx facility last week, from obtaining guns, even after he had been deemed too dangerous to possess a shotgun, a top law enforcement official said on Monday.

In a news conference, Ryan Mears, the prosecutor for Marion County, said that prosecutors decided not to seek such a determination when Mr. Hole’s mother raised alarms about his mental instability in March of 2020, “because we’d already achieved our objective.” The police had seized a shotgun belonging to Mr. Hole, Mr. Mears said, and the family had told the authorities that “they were not going to pursue the return of that firearm.”

But the next step — petitioning for a red flag determination, which if granted would have barred Mr. Hole from buying or possessing guns for at least six months — was never taken. According to the authorities, Mr. Hole legally bought the two semiautomatic rifles he used in last week’s attack on the FedEx facility in July and September, which he could not have done had the red flag law been applied.

Mr. Mears said the prosecutors decided not to file such a petition because it would have been difficult to prove that Mr. Hole should be subject to the law in the short time frame the statute allows.

“I think it’s important to note that this case does illustrate some of the shortcomings that exist with this red flag law,” Mr. Mears said, noting the brief, 14-day window prosecutors have in which to build a case and the limited investigative tools available to them within that window.

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Ryan Mears, the prosecutor for Marion County, at a vigil on Saturday. Mr. Mears said that prosecutors decided not to invoke the “red flag” law after police officers seized a shotgun belonging to Mr. Hole, the gunman accused in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Credit…A J Mast for The New York Times

“I think people hear ‘red flag’ and they think it’s the panacea to all these issues,” Mr. Mears said. “It’s not. What it is, is a good start,” he said, adding that because of “a number of loopholes in the practical application of this law,” the authorities do not always have “the tools they need to make the most well-informed decisions.”

Indiana’s red flag law, named after Timothy “Jake” Laird, an officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2004, is one of the oldest such laws in the country. Under the statute, a person is considered dangerous if he “presents an imminent risk” to himself or others, or if he presents a more general risk but fits certain other criteria, including unmedicated mental illness or a documented propensity for violence.

In March 2020, Mr. Hole’s mother showed up at a police roll call, and told the officers that her son was having suicidal thoughts, said the chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Randal Taylor. Several officers came to her house and took the son to a hospital in what Paul Keenan, the F.B.I. special agent in charge in Indianapolis, said in a statement was an “immediate detention mental health temporary hold.” According to Mr. Mears, that hospital stay “was measured by hours and not days” and “no follow-up medication was prescribed.”

The officers also took a shotgun that Mr. Hole had recently bought. The gun was never returned; Mr. Mears said the family agreed to forfeit it and Chief Taylor said Mr. Hole contacted the police at one point and said he did not want it back.

If Mr. Hole had been subject to a red flag restriction, he would not have been able to buy or even possess a gun for at least six months — a year if he did not challenge the ruling. Instead, he was able to legally purchase a rifle within four months.

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