Costs continue to climb for investigation into Columbus Police misconduct during protests

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS, OH – MAY 28: What started as a peaceful demonstration near the Ohio Statehouse in solidarity with other protests throughout the country against the killing of Minneapolis, Minnesota resident George Floyd, turned into a riot after police and protesters clashed on May 28, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. As protesters dispersed, looters began smashing windows in buildings including the Ohio Statehouse and local retail on Broad Street in Downtown Columbus. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The cost is still climbing for an administrative investigation into Columbus Police conduct, which wrapped months ago.

The city hired the law firm BakerHostetler in 2020 to look into possible violations of Columbus Division of Police policy during protests downtown that summer. The firm finished its investigation in March, but Monday night, the city council is expected to vote on a pay increase.

A proposed ordinance on Monday’s agenda increases the final amount of the contract between the city and BakerHostetler from $550,000 to $615,064.89. If approved, this would be the second time the city council modified the contract to include more money. The final payment will be more than 12 times the amount of the original $50,000 agreement.

Three officers were disciplined. Two received constructive counseling and corrective action was taken against a third.

According to Monday’s ordinance, the $65,064.89 increase is meant to pay for the amount of work required to complete the investigation. The ordinance states BakerHostetler reviewed more than 560 gigabytes of data from police, not including the videos, social media posts, photos, and emails provided by civilians. The investigators interviewed 85 police personnel, contacted more than 100 civilians, and worked more than 2,700 hours, according to the document.

The investigation yielded 49 reports, which NBC4 investigates received and reported on in March. Those reports led to administrative investigations into five officers. Of those five, one was subject to disciplinary action. According to police records, the officer agreed to constructive counseling for failing to report pepper spraying a woman and pushing her to the ground.

Ned Pettus, Jr., the city’s Director of Public Safety, said city leadership was displeased with the outcome of the investigation, given the cost.

“They were independent, and they cost us,” Pettus said. “We learned that we need greater cooperation from the members of the division, which we were not able to compel.”

Pettus and Mayor Andrew Ginther said officers refusing to answer investigators’ questions stymied the BakerHostetler investigation, as well as an ongoing criminal investigation by a retired FBI agent hired as a special prosecutor.

“I think that we could have found far more out and helped with restoring trust in and confidence in the community, had folks been compelled,” Ginther said.

Ginther held a press conference Monday morning to announce a new contract agreement between the city and the police union. The city council is also expected to vote on that contract Monday evening.

The agreement includes provisions for disciplinary action, including termination, for officers who do not cooperate with investigators.

“I think it clearly lays out why this contract agreement, this tentative agreement, is so important,” Ginther said. “Because there were many officers that did not work with the investigators at (BakerHostetler) or the retired FBI agent.”

Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge #9 were not present at Monday’s press conference, declining to comment publicly until the union contract is officially approved.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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