The Herald Bulletin

February 4, 2008

7:57 p.m. UPDATE: Jury finds former officer not liable in BSU student’s death


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal jury on Monday found a former Ball State University police officer was not liable for the shooting death of a drunken student.

Jurors in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis deliberated about three hours before returning the verdict in favor of Robert Duplain.

Duplain testified that Michael McKinney, 21, of Bedford, charged at him and he fired in fear that McKinney could lunge for his gun. Duplain said he didn’t know at the time in November 2003 that McKinney was a lost, drunken college student at the wrong address.

The 24-year-old rookie officer had been summoned to a residence after the student began pounding on a stranger’s back door. Tests later showed that McKinney had a blood-alcohol content of 0.34 percent, more than four times the limit considered legally intoxicated to drive in Indiana.

John Kautzman, one of Duplains attorneys, said McKinney acted out of character because he was drunk.

“Mr. McKinney, because he had drank so much that night, did something he would never do,” Kautzman said. “He charged at a uniformed, armed police officer.”

Duplain never faced criminal charges and returned to the campus police force, but he since has moved back to his hometown of Canton, Ohio. A Delaware County grand jury cleared him in December 2004, and the U.S. Department of Justice investigated but took no action.

But McKinney’s family sued, alleging that Duplain used excessive force when he shot the student four times. The lawsuit alleged that Duplain first shot the student twice in the back and side while McKinney was facing away from him, then ran up and shot him twice more after the wounded student turned around.

“It must have happened tens of thousands of times that officers encountered students who were drunk,” attorney Geoffrey Fieger said in his closing argument. “Not one (at Ball State) ever shot or killed a student. Not one.”

Fieger had asked jurors to award about $25 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.