COLUMBUS (WCMH) — City of Columbus leaders and partners from BakerHostetler, the law firm hired to investigate allegations of police misconduct during the summer’s protests, announced their findings on Tuesday.
According to Jennifer Edwards, one of the partners, four police officers were exonerated of wrongdoing while the allegations against one police officer were sustained.
Nine complaints were deemed to be unfounded, two were withdrawn, and 25 complaints were unable to be sustained, meaning there was not enough evidence to prove or disprove the claims.
“I can tell you, I was surprised, and in many cases, angered at the results,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther. “Like all of you, I saw the photos, I saw the videos and I heard from friends, colleagues and neighbors about what occurred on our streets the first day of protests. The results from the investigations prove to me more clearly than ever before the need for police reform.”
Edwards said there were a number of challenges in completing these investigations.
One issue, she said, was in identifying some of the officers involved in the incidents, as some were not wearing their names or badges on their tactical uniforms. She also said the protective gear covered the faces of many officers, while some were not wearing body cameras.
Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan said he has already made changes to division policies so officers can be more easily identified in these situations.
“I’ve instituted a new system ensuring officers who are working in crowd control protective gear have highly visible identification on the front and back of their outer most garments, as well as methods of mounting body cameras to this equipment,” he explained.
Edwards also said the firm’s work was made difficult by the contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9. One issue, she explained, is that the contract requires that all citizen complaints of officers be investigated within 90 days.
“The FOP‘s decision to withhold its agreement to extend the deadline, in the cases for which we requested them, is absolutely unreasonable,” said Edwards.
Ginther said he hopes the findings will lead to police reform, along with changes to the FOP’s contract.
He said the public voting in favor of a citizen’s review board would be the first step in bringing about that reform.
“They get to vote on, for the first time ever, police reform in November and I think with their support, if they support Issue 2, I’ll be able to go to the collective bargaining table, the negotiating table with the FOP in good faith and work out some of these issues,” he said.
As of this writing, the FOP has yet to respond to the city’s findings.
Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce and Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, all of whom were pepper sprayed during the protests, issued the following statements on the findings:
From U.S. Representative Joyce Beatty (OH-3):
“Peaceful demonstrations are protected under the U.S. Constitution. Period. There is no reasonable rationale for allowing, authorizing, or excusing the use of disproportionate force against lawful demonstrators. It is telling to me that this report in no way gives a face or a voice to the emotion or the truth of the peaceful protest that was taking place. That fateful day was peaceful until officers showed up in riot gear and proceeded to escalate the situation quickly and dramatically. As a Black woman, I have seen too many examples of unwarranted excessive force against Black Americans. I have experienced personally and professionally the effects of systemic racism that has plagued our country for over 400 years, but I would have never anticipated that these sad truths would play out while serving in my official capacity as the Representative of Ohio’s Third Congressional District. Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously injured that day, but that’s not always the case. So, although I am extremely disappointed and strongly disagree with the report and its findings—which it is important to note were overseen and reviewed by contract law attorneys and not civil rights attorneys—all of us can agree that our community, state and nation are hurting. We can also agree that this report painfully highlights the need to pass meaningful police reform in Columbus and ensure greater accountability through the creation of an independent Inspector General and a citizen review board. Because when it happens to three elected officials, who just so happen to be Black, it speaks volumes to the likely behavior and aggression many citizens face from some in law enforcement.”
From Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce:
“Disappointment and disbelief dominate in my reaction to the Baker Hostetler investigation of my reported incident. The depiction of innocent protestors as agitators is absurd and offensive. We are once again witnesses to a demonstration of the deficiency and ineffectiveness of the system and how it is ultimately designed to discount and discredit. I gathered that day—to stand in solidarity on the principles of civil and social justice and denounce violence of any form. A plethora of media, including numerous video recordings of the melee have been viewed in the public realm, yet there were no findings of misconduct? Action is needed to understand that the time is NOW to address the abuse of power and force and overhaul our system.”
From Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin::
“I am frustrated and disagree with the initial report and the fact that so few officers can be held accountable for their overt and unnecessary use of force. Once again in America, officers who acted in broad daylight with violence against unarmed civilians get a pass. The fact that so few complaints are being sustained is a damning indictment of the system of oversight, reinforcing the lack of faith black residents have in the system. It is clear Columbus must create an independent Citizen Review Board that has subpoena power to get to the facts and improve accountability for law enforcement.”