COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A special prosecutor hired to look into Columbus officers’ conduct during the city’s 2020 George Floyd protests explained why so few ended up charged with a crime — despite troubling force caught on video.
NBC4 met with Prosecutor Brad Nicodemus on Thursday to talk about the investigation that ended in June. He joined the case in mid-May, nearly a year after officers Traci Shaw, Holly Kanode, and Phillip Walls were each charged with misdemeanors. But after looking over footage from five other incidents, Nicodemus decided not to file any more charges.
“I don’t want to spend my time, defense attorney’s time, and the court’s time on a case where I look at it and there’s no way I’m ever going to win this case,” Nicodemus said. “Even though a crime might have occurred, there’s a reasonable defense. A jury’s not going to find beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Clashes between protesters and police in downtown Columbus proved costly for the city. It paid law firm Baker Hostetler more than $600,000 to review possible violations of Columbus Division of Police policy. That ended with one officer agreeing to get counseling for failing to report pepper-spraying a protester and pushing them to the ground.
The City of Columbus also had to pay out a $5.75 million settlement to more than 24 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit. In that case, a judge said police officers had run “amok” during the protests.
The criminal investigation into police conduct carried a $138,000 legal bill for special prosecutors, including Nicodemus. That case faced months of delays as officers initially refused to answer questions as witnesses. Nicodemus also said they didn’t file more charges for a variety of reasons, including being unable to identify an officer in the footage who pepper-sprayed student journalists at the scene.
“It kind of ranged from, ‘well, there might have been probable cause but I’m not going to win it,’ to, in some cases, I just did not think that there was probable cause to even file,” Nicodemus said. “So when I look at, I can’t identify the officers behind them, so first off I got the identity issue. And then, using pepper spray to disperse a crowd, I’m not sure I would get a conviction on that.”
While criminal charges are off the table, Nicodemus said CPD is still looking into potential violations of department policy.
“I don’t want my decision to come across as justifying what they did,” Nicodemus said. “Because I think what they did was wrong, I just don’t know that it was illegal or that I could prove that it was illegal.”
NBC4 asked Nicodemus what he would say to the public if they felt like CPD officers weren’t held accountable.
“That is a good question, and we also have to make sure we hear both sides,” Nicodemus said. “That’s what this system is set up for. That’s why we are innocent until proven guilty. Of course, we got the trials going on. But what I hope is Columbus – and not just Columbus police – but all police agencies start to look at their policies for dealing with large protests, crowd control, and use of force, in those types of situations. I think this can be eye-opening and a chance to reflect and see – given hindsight, what could we do better?”
The city has taken some steps in that direction, as well, including an ordinance requiring CPD officers to have their name and badge numbers visible, unless they’re undercover. Of the three officers facing charges, Kanode went to trial in May, but it was put on hold and hasn’t been scheduled to start back up.
Another officer’s trial is set for July 18, and the third is scheduled in August.