A controversial shooting, a cop back from the brink

By on September 13, 2022

Thirty-two years ago, with the Indianapolis Police Department, Scott Haslar killed an unarmed Black robbery suspect. In a new book, the Manteo resident provides his revealing and painful perspective to a complicated story.

Scott Haslar does not shrink from the complexities and conflicts in his case.

Indianapolis Police Officer Scott Haslar said he had “an intuitive sense” that something bad was going to happen when he went to work on Sunday, July 9, 1990. While on duty, he and other officers were alerted to a robbery in progress at a Taco Bell in the Castleton section of the city.

That triggered a chain of events that culminated in Haslar fatally shooting the suspect, Leonard Barnett, a 26-year-old Black man who turned out not to be armed at the time. Following the shooting, Haslar spent the next three years as the subject of a criminal investigation that ended when a grand jury declined to indict him, as well as a defendant in two civil lawsuits from which he emerged victorious. (The first one produced a hung jury.)

But the end of legal proceedings was far from the end of the story, as readers learn in his book “On Sacred Ground: Death, Trauma, & Transformation: Memoir of an Officer Involved Shooting.” In an era when police killings of young Black men have been politically polarizing, inflamed passions and sparked protests across the country, “On Sacred Ground” provides a case study that exposes the complexities and crosscurrents of one such situation.

The book may change minds, or it may reinforce existing perceptions. It may move some, and anger others. But at its core, “Sacred Ground” is about Haslar’s struggle to find and rebuild himself after that shooting, the only time he fired his weapon in nearly three decades of police work.

“The theme is the healing. So before people make judgments, we hope they read it,” noted Haslar’s wife Katy in an interview with the Voice. “He does…make that journey…He spiraled into alcoholism and addiction.”  In his book, Haslar makes clear that there were numerous periods when he contemplated suicide. In one such episode, a SWAT team, which he had belonged to, was called to prevent him from doing so.

“Eventually, it was healing in the end,” Scott Haslar noted in the interview. “But it was a long-dark night.”

*****

After a 28-year career in the Indianapolis Police Department, Haslar retired in 2015 and moved to the Outer Banks with Katy in 2018. They live in Manteo. Along with BA in Sociology and Criminal Justice, he holds an MA in Applied Sociology and Transpersonal Psychology.

Today, Haslar is a recovery coach, specializing in PTSD and trauma, as well as working as an officer manager at the Nags Head Treatment Center. Katy, who works for the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services, is a peer support specialist and a public health educational specialist, specializing in recovery and overdose support.

In an interview with the Voice, Haslar recounts in detail the events of July 9, 1990. The suspect in the Taco Bell robbery was “described [as] a Black male with a large revolver who fled the scene in a red IROC Camaro…violent holdup.” The suspect was also reported to have told the Taco Bell manager on duty that he had already killed someone else that day.

What ensued was a wild car chase after Barnett somehow managed to drive away from two law enforcement officers who had pulled him over and shot at him, apparently missing, inside the car. Haslar, who was not in pursuit but was blocking an intersection, saw Barnett’s car being pursued by a police vehicle — estimating that both of them were travelling about 100 miles per hour. The chase ended when the suspect got into a horrific-looking accident, sending his car airborne, eventually crashing into the cement porch of a home.

In the Voice interview, Haslar, the only officer right on the scene at that point, described what happened.

“As I’m running up, I get near the door…and he’s out of the car standing in front of me…I back up and I started screaming at him” to get on the “f-ing ground…I describe in the book how he was looking right through me…And he comes at me, and he reaches out to grab me. He’s not listening to anything I’m saying, and he’s not saying anything at all.”

After he got close and Haslar struck him, he said Barnett made it back to the crumpled car and “jumps in headfirst in the car. I see money flying, and then he stops…As soon as he sees me, I can see that he locks eyes on me, his hands had come together, and he starts to come out of the car…At that second, I thought it was me or him. I unloaded on him. Five rounds.”

“I didn’t hear the gun go off. I didn’t feel the gun go off.” Haslar told the Voice. “It was like an out-of-body experience.”

In the immediate aftermath off the shooting, Haslar was put into a police car and transported downtown to homicide where he gave a statement. And the investigation that would eventually end with no indictment began.

As Haslar readily acknowledges, there were confusing and complicating elements to the Barnett shooting. For one thing, no gun was ever found on or near the suspect after the crash. For another, Barnett suffered a compound fracture to his lower right leg in the car accident, raising questions, and producing conflicting testimony, about how he could have moved as quickly as Haslar’s account indicated. And for another, as Haslar noted, there was “nothing that would indicate this guy was a holdup man. No criminal record.”

A few days after the shooting, Indianapolis was hosting a Black Expo, conference, a major national event that featured civil right leader and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. During that event, Haslar recounted in the Voice interview, Jackson “went to the intersection where I killed [Barnett] and pronounced it sacred ground.” Hence, the name of the book.

A significant portion of Haslar’s book discusses how the shooting, his exoneration, the Medal of Valor he received and subsequent promotions made him a focal point of racial tensions in the city over the shooting. For years, he recalled, local headlines referred to him simply with the shorthand, “Controversial Cop.”

As recounted in “On Sacred Ground,” Haslar’s path after the shooting included a deep dive into painful introspection. During a stay at a Tennessee treatment center just outside Nashville known as the Ranch, Haslar writes about the realization that “I never took a hard look at myself from the perspective of both camps…Sitting there in Nashville, I had to come to terms with the fact that there was truth to be found in both camps. Those who called me a cold-blooded killer and those who called me a hero. They were both right. There is both light and dark in all of us.”

Much of the second half of the book deals with Haslar’s struggle to find that light. Sometime after the second civil trial ended — as he continued to work in the Indianapolis Police Department — Haslar began experiencing “suicidal ideation.” Heavy, obsessive drinking became a way of life; he wrote about driving to the liquor store while in alcoholic blackout. There were visits with a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication, as well as visits with a holistic nurse practitioner, who focused on lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. There were stays in a treatment center. His marriage deteriorated, leading to divorce.

Describing the see-saw swings in his psyche, Haslar writes that one day, while having lunch with his mother, he told her that “This is the happiest I’ve ever been.” Hours later, he woke up in a jail cell after a bout of heavy drinking ended with him attacking Katy.

The book also recounts how his life turned, and the decision, among others, to seek help from SMART Recovery, which he describes as a “secular alternative to 12-step groups.” At the end of the book, he writes that “My life today looks completely different than it did four years ago…We still have struggles, but they’re the same everyday struggles we all have.”

Examining the events that brought him to this point, Haslar addresses in the book the need to try and heal the kind of police/community fissures that emerged in his case as well as in many others across the country.

“My hope is that now and in the future, we seize the opportunity we missed in 1990 before the police/community partnership deteriorates any further. For this to happen, at some point, police officers themselves have to look within. However, many of us avoid or delay that process, including myself.”

“Both sides have a lot of work to do,” he wrote.


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BP0100: General Trades

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Comments

  • Alf

    A must read for all wokesters!

    Tuesday, Sep 13 @ 7:03 pm
  • Jeff Walker

    So he got off scot free for killing someone plus a promotion and a shiny medal, and now he wants to profit off continuing to play the victim.

    Tuesday, Sep 13 @ 11:00 pm
  • Kit

    Alf: What/who is a “wokester?”

    Wednesday, Sep 14 @ 8:41 am
  • Liz

    Jeff Walker: So you’ve read the book? Judging by your flippant, unthinking comment, I’m guessing the answer is no. Before automatically passing judgment, maybe you should consider actually reading it. Also, please define scot free. Are you sure it applies here?

    Wednesday, Sep 14 @ 9:52 am
  • Someone who read the book

    Hi Jeff – you are absolutely entitled to your opinion, but to be clear on a fact, he was not promoted for or because of the shooting. He was promoted some time later after passing a standardized test that is available to every officer to take, and is objectively graded by an outside agency. The promotions and the event were mutually exclusive. Also, the suspect did indeed commit the robbery at gun point – he had disposed of the weapon before the encounter.

    Wednesday, Sep 14 @ 11:52 am
  • blue devil bruce

    Mr. Walker, until you have been there you don’t know . You don’t have a clue. I hope I can meet the officer

    Wednesday, Sep 14 @ 3:29 pm
  • Steve Railsback

    Cop haters are gonna hate. They tend to be non-nuanced, actually the least “woke” of anyone, and exceptionally myopic. I hope this chap in Manteo is doing yeoman’s work in his efforts with the less fortunate.

    Wednesday, Sep 14 @ 7:03 pm