New law needed: Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt and Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen address the Aug. 2 incident at Walmart during a press conference at the Terre Haute Police Department on Friday. Tribune-Star/David Kronke
New law needed: Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt and Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen address the Aug. 2 incident at Walmart during a press conference at the Terre Haute Police Department on Friday. Tribune-Star/David Kronke
While two men who walked into Walmart midday Aug. 2 — one of them wearing a ski mask and with a pellet gun stuck in his belt — didn’t commit a crime, there ought to be a law.

That’s according to Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt, who Friday said he’s reached out to state Sen. Jon Ford in an effort to get such a law started. Modesitt spoke at the Terre Haute Police Department headquarters, where he addressed the incident that sent customers fleeing from the Walmart store on Terre Haute’s east side.

The prosecutor and Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen on Friday expressed frustration over the incident, which outraged many residents when no arrests were made. A THPD Facebook post even seemed to express vexation with the decision, though a later post underscored that it was not questioning the prosecutor’s office assessment that no laws were broken.

In an effort to demonstrate transparency, Modesitt provided media with video culled from Walmart surveillance cameras that followed the two men from their car in the parking lot to the moment police arrived to confront them at a jewelry counter.

“Anybody can view it and see what we have seen while making our decisions with regards to this case,” Modesitt said.

Modesitt has pored over the video and described what he saw. “They start when the two individuals get out of the vehicle all the way through the parking lot until they enter the building,” he said. “They go to the Subway and, it looks like, purchase a drink and go over to the jewelry counter and look at some of the jewelry when the police arrive.

“The two individuals never confronted anybody, they never spoke to anybody outside of somebody they were obviously friends with,” Modesitt continued. “Nothing happened. They never touched the gun, never pulled the gun out.”

He added, “This was kind of an unusual situation. There was not a statute that fits where we can say a crime occurred.”

He further stated, “I contacted Senator Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) and told him we need to adopt a law in the state of Indiana that makes it a crime to carry a weapon in a business with a full face mask on. He agreed with my recommendation. He is now looking into that to see if that’s something we can push through the legislature to see if we can get a law adopted going forward.”

Modesitt decried what he called “Facebook facts,” erroneous misinformation being disseminated concerning the incident.

The prosecutor said he’s heard or seen suggestions that the men pointed the gun at someone, that a shot was fired, and that one of the men pointed his hand like a gun and said, “Bang.”

None of that can be seen on the video.

Might this happening and authorities unable to charge the perpetrators be unforeseen fallout from Indiana’s open carry law?

Said Modesitt, “Everybody’s got their different opinions on the open carry law in Indiana. It is what it is. We don’t make the laws, we have to deal with that. You have the other side — ‘Hey, I should be allowed to carry to protect myself.’ I see both sides of that.”

He continued, “I go back to the surveillance tape — they didn’t do anything proactively to disturb the peace at all. They did nothing differently than anybody else in there who was shopping ... except you can see in his belt that he had a weapon and he had a full face mask on. “It’s not against the law to wear a full face mask, it’s not against the law with the open carry now to carry a gun. That’s what we’re up against.”

Modesitt noted, “There are some people because of religious beliefs who wear a full mask, full face coverings in buildings and out in public. We’re going to have to deal with this since we are having these mass shootings out in the world.” Said Keen, “From a law-enforcement standpoint, it was frustrating to have all these resources drawn away from the rest of the city to deal with this incident.”

Keen also noted that with Indiana’s open carry law, the two were lucky that an armed person in the store didn’t perceive them as a threat and shoot them.

“That’s a concern,” he said. “Generally, you hear about someone who comes into a public place with a mask and a gun and it’s not a real gun. The fear is, well, they could have been shot by someone armed. That’s a reasonable concern for anyone.”

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