NUVO at 25: A news flashback 

A look at news events that changed the face of this city and state

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Every story is big when it breaks, but some stories are naturally bigger than others. Some stories shape a culture or community and some lead to legislation, litigation, or leadership changes. Over the last 25 years certain stories have shaped the development of Indianapolis and surrounding areas and effected change, good and bad. These are some of the biggest that have led us to where we are today.

1990: Ryan White dies of AIDS at the age of 18

Just a few weeks after NUVO made its maiden voyage and began a legacy of bringing a "new voice" to print media in Indianapolis, a teenage icon succumbed to the illness that made him famous. Ryan White died April 8, 1990 and was laid to rest one week later. His funeral drew the presence of celebrities like Elton John and Michael Jackson and put Indianapolis in the same conversation with San Francisco and New York in terms of AIDS and HIV awareness. The hemophiliac who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion became the face of the education movement for the disease. His legacy is immortalized in federally legislated resources for low-income Americans infected with HIV as well as a permanent exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

1991–1992: Mike Tyson is arrested, tried and convicted on rape charges

Indianapolis received more national attention in the July 1991 when heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was arrested on rape charges. Tyson and 18-year-old Desiree Washington, Miss Black Rhode Island, were in Indianapolis for Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration. Washington accused Tyson of luring her to his hotel under the guise of a party and raping her. The trial took place in late January 1992. Tyson was found guilty after 10 hours of deliberations and was sentenced to 6 years in an Indiana state prison. He served three years of his term and was released in 1995.

1995: Indianapolis police brutality incident leads to "mini-riot"

Indianapolis police arrested 21-year-old Danny Sales on July 25, 1995 during a drug trafficking crackdown in the city. Sales accused the arresting officer, a police sergeant, of beating him during the arrest. Sales filed a complaint at IPD's North District office at 42nd Street and College Avenue the following day. Sales was dissatisfied with the response to his complaint and staged a protest outside of the precinct. Others joined him and the crowd gained strength in numbers reaching over 100. Police responded to the protesting crowd with tear gas, K-9 units and armored riot vehicles. The confrontation lasted for several days and led to looting and people throwing rocks and bricks at authorities and the police station in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. The FBI was called to investigate the brutality complaint and IPD's response to the protest. Fred Ramos and Steve Hammer went into the neighborhood to talk directly to residents, and their grievances and concerns regarding the Goldsmith administration's relationship with Indy's Black Citizens were published in the Aug. 3, 1995 issue of NUVO.

1996: Herbert Baumeister investigation and suicide

The investigation into the mysterious disappearances of gay men in Indianapolis began in the early 1990s. In 1992, a witness told police a man he met at a gay bar, identified as "Brian Smart," killed his friend and tried to kill him. Three years later that witness contacted police again, this time armed with a license plate number. The plate was registered to Westfield businessman Herbert Baumeister, founder and owner of the Sav-A-Lot thrift store chain. Indianapolis police and Marion County sheriff's investigators were not allowed to search the Baumeister farm until 1996 when his wife finally became suspicious of her husband's behavior and filed for divorce. Once on the property, authorities found the remains of 11 men buried on the farm. Herbert Baumeister fled to Ontario, Canada where he committed suicide. At the time of his death, Baumeister was under investigation for the deaths of nine additional men whose bodies were found in rural areas along the I-70 corridor between Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis.

2001: Indianapolis Baptist Temple tax scandal

On February 13, 2001, U.S. marshalls entered the Indianapolis Baptist Temple under federal court order to seize the property. The church, under the leadership of Dr. Greg Dixon, had been the subject of a multiyear investigation and court battle regarding taxes. The Internal Revenue Service filed a lawsuit against the church in 1994 for not withholding taxes from its employees for several years. Dixon held fast to the claim that the "alleged pay" the IRS was referring to was a "love offering" to the people who worked in the church as "servants of God" and therefore wasn't subject to taxation. In 1999, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker ordered the church to pay $3.6 million in back taxes which Dixon refused to do. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to hear the case. In December 2000, Evans-Barker ordered the church property seized on behalf of the IRS. Church members barricaded themselves inside of the church following the order. It took two months before U.S. marshalls were able to take control of the property. Ten people were arrested peacefully during the raid and many people physically removed from the premises. NUVO's Paul Pogue won multiple SPJ awards for his coverage — after joining church members inside the barricaded church. Pogue's Oct. 26, 2000 cover story won First Prize for Best Deadline Reporting.

Sept. 11, 2001: Terror Attacks

Along with the rest of the U.S., airspace over Indianapolis is closed after the 9/11 terror attacks. Planes hijacked by jihadists slammed into both towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth flight, headed for the West Coast, turned over Ohio and doubled back to the east. United 93 would eventually crash into a field in Shanksville, PA after passengers stormed the cockpit.

2006: Hamilton Ave. Murders

IMPD officers responded to a 911 call just after 10 p.m. on the night of June 1, 2006. At 560 North Hamilton Ave., officers found seven people, four adults and three children, shot dead in their home. To this day, the massacre is considered to be the worst mass murder in Indianapolis history. James Stewart and Desmond Turner were identified and arrested within two days of the crime Stewart is serving a 425-year sentence while Turner is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility for parole. The property sustained fire damage twice within two years following the murders. It was eventually demolished by the city in 2010.

2007: Greg Ballard is elected the 48th mayor of Indianapolis.

When Bart Peterson was elected the 47th mayor of Indianapolis in 1999, he was the first Democratic mayor in 30 years. His administration included the consolidation of the police and sheriff's departments, mayor's office-sponsored charter schools, developments in the arts, the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium and the beginning of the process for the city to submit what became a successful Super Bowl hosting bid. Peterson won re-election in 2003 by 63 percent so everyone, including the Republican party, assumed Peterson would sail through to a third term. Former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Ballard wasn't considered a threat with his meager $300,000 in funds compared to Peterson's $2.9 million war chest. However the issues of crime and increasing property taxes (which was more of a state issue thanks to reassessment mandates) proved to be Peterson's Achilles' heel. Ballard defeated Peterson 50 percent to 47 percent. Peterson's defeat was declared the biggest political upset in Indiana history.

2008: Indiana becomes a factor in the presidential election of Barack Obama

Indiana had long been marked as a Republican state and with one of the latest primary elections in the country, the Hoosier state rarely got any love from presidential hopefuls. However the war for delegates to name the Democratic nominee for president brought the battlefield right to the Crossroads of America. Either frontrunner was set to make history: the first African-American president in Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, or the first female president in Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY. Clinton won the primary in Indiana by a less than one percent margin, but lost the nomination to Obama due to an overwhelming defeat in North Carolina the same day. Indiana added the state's nine electoral votes to the Democrat's win over Republican John McCain. Obama's one percent victory over John McCain in Indiana marked the first time the Hoosier state had elected a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson was elected to his first full term.

2010: Brandon Johnson police brutality case

It was the biggest case of racial police brutality since the Danny Sales incident in 1995. Fifteen-year-old Brandon Johnson was at an eastside apartment May 16, 2010 when IMPD officers arrived to investigate the report of an attempted robbery. Johnson claimed he was beaten by police officers as he tried to comfort his little brother who was about to be arrested. Police say Johnson was trying to incite a riot among the teens at the apartment as his brother violently resisted arrest. In the end, Johnson sustained multiple cuts and bruises including a swollen eye, broken nose, chipped teeth and cuts to his face. The incident led to public outcry of racial inequality and excessive use of force by IMPD. The officers involved were eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing and the city reached a monetary settlement of $150,000 granted to Johnson's family in a civil lawsuit.

2010: Officer David Bisard slams into motorcyclists

On August 6, 2010 Officer David Bisard drove his police cruiser into a group of motorcyclists. One biker, Eric Wells, was killed in the accident. Two others, Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly, were critically injured. A blood test conducted two hours later showed Bisard's blood alcohol content level to be more than twice the legal limit. However how that blood was taken, broken protocols in the storage of a second vial of blood and questions surrounding its use as evidence in court led to an even bigger scandal within the police department. Public outcry ranged from the integrity of the force in trying to protect "one of their own" to the role and integrity of then Public Safety Director Frank Schaub. All the way up through sentencing Bisard denied being intoxicated behind the wheel. Several mid-level ranking officers were terminated based on the handling of the accident investigation. Police Chief Paul Ciesielski and Public Safety Director Frank Straub ultimately resigned in 2012 as a result of the mismanagement of the case.

2011: Bei Bei Shuai charged with murder and attempted feticide

Just two days before Christmas 2010, a Chinese immigrant named Bei Bei Shuai was rushed to an Indianapolis hospital. Shuai had ingested rat poison in an attempt to take her own life. She was also 33 weeks pregnant at the time. Shuai's baby was delivered by caesarean section on New Year's Eve only to die in her mother's arms four days later. On March 11, 2011 Shaui was arrested on murder and attempted feticide charges. She remained incarcerated for 14 months without bail. Her case started a national discussion on mental health and the rights of pregnant women. Indiana's feticide bill was originally written to protect pregnant women against violence from third party perpetrators like violent boyfriends or armed assailants. Defense Attorney Linda Pence argued heavily in court and on the public stage that suicide was not a crime against law and that prosecuting this case could lead to the criminalization of a pregnant woman's actions outside of the law. The case was ultimately settled in 2013 when Shuai pled guilty to misdemeanor criminal recklessness and was sentenced to time already served.

2012: Stage collapse at Indiana State Fair

click to enlarge The State Fair stage collapse of 2012. - PHOTO BY ERNIE MILLS
  • The State Fair stage collapse of 2012.
  • Photo by Ernie Mills

It was the "Year of the Dairy Cows" at the 2012 Indiana State Fair. On the night of August 13, discussions were held as to whether the headliner Sugarland would perform following their opening act, Sara Bareilles, or if the show should be postponed or canceled because of weather. Before officials got the chance to announce an evacuation a wind burst from the storm front moved in and caused the temporary stage roof to collapse on the crowd below. Seven people were killed and 58 others were injured. The tragic incident and following investigation resulted in a revised emergency preparedness plan for the state fair, higher stage rigging standards, multiple payouts to the victims and their families and several lawsuits, some of which are still working their way through the court system.

click to enlarge The State Fair stage collapse of 2012. - PHOTO BY ERNIE MILLS
  • The State Fair stage collapse of 2012.
  • Photo by Ernie Mills

2012: Richmond Hill explosion

A quiet neighborhood on the southeast side of Indianapolis was rocked awake when a house exploded on November 12, 2012. The blast leveled the home at 8349 Fieldfare Way and severely damaged numerous others in the Richmond Hill subdivision. The couple next door to the blast site, John and Jennifer Longworth, was killed. Seven other neighbors were injured. Investigators determined the explosion was intentional. The motive is believed to be insurance fraud. Eventually the homeowner, Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard, and his brother Bob Leonard were all initially charged with murder and arson. In January 2015, Shirley agreed to a guilty plea in exchange for her testimony against the other two suspects. A fourth suspect, Gary Thompson, was also arrested in January 2015. The trials for the Leonard brothers are still pending.

2014: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Indiana

In 1986, state statute was established restricting marriages in Indiana to only between one man and one woman. In 1997, the law was revised to include language stating Indiana would not recognized same sex marriages solemnized in other states as well. In 2004, the movement began to cement that "traditional" marriage language into the state's constitution. The Indiana General Assembly finally approved the constitutional amendment in 2011, however it needed to pass again in either 2013 or 2014 in order to get to the final hurdle of a referendum vote on the ballot. Groups mobilized and prepared for a fight at the statehouse each year. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision striking down the most important part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013 added fuel to the Hoosier fire in preparation of fighting the battle in 2014. Marriage equality advocates won the battle on a technicality, but it was a win nonetheless. Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the existing law began to move through the federal court system. That tidal wave reached shore in October 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Indiana's appeal, thereby solidifying a U.S. District Court ruling that Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. NUVO's coverage of the attempt to codify discrimination into the Indiana Constitution — a measure eventually known as HJR-3 — was anchored by Rebecca Townsend. Portions of "Bullies in the Statehouse — a Legislative Mess, a waste of resources and the chairman's gay son" (a reference to Columbus GOP Rep. Milo Smith, chair of the elections committee), was picked up by national news outlets.

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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

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Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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