COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Charges against the third and final police officer accused of misconduct during the 2020 protests in downtown Columbus have been dropped.
Special prosecutor Brad Nicodemus told NBC4 that he withdrew three charges — assault, dereliction of duty and interfering with civil rights — against Columbus Division of Police Officer Phillip Walls, who was accused of pepper spraying protesters on a sidewalk that he and his colleagues were instructed to clear in the summer of 2020.
The withdrawal of charges against Walls, whose trial was originally scheduled to begin Monday, officially marks the end of a two-year criminal investigation in which three officers were charged with misdemeanors, and none were convicted.
Nicodemus took over the case in mid-May, one year after the charges were filed against Walls and two other Columbus Division of Police personnel, Sgt. Holly Kanode and Officer Traci Shaw.
Kathleen Garber, the special prosecutor originally hired by the City of Columbus to investigate allegations of officer misconduct during protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, resigned after Shaw’s charges were dismissed.
Nicodemus described the transition between prosecutors as “very, very last minute, and kind of rushed.” He said had he been involved with the criminal investigation since the beginning, he would not have filed charges against Walls.
“Part of their briefing before they arrived at that corner was that they were going to be clearing those protesters and to get their mace out. So they knew they would be engaging them,” Nicodemus said. “Officer Walls did not mace everybody. He went by — there were a number of people that cleared and he did not spray them — did not mace them. Only macing those persons who were not clearing the area.”
But Rick Lane, one of the two people who was pepper-sprayed by Walls, said he is disappointed the officer will not be held accountable in court.
“For someone else to just say, ‘Hey, you know, we can’t win this. We’re just, we’re just going to stop,’ That doesn’t sit very well with me. That’s taking away my ability to have my time in court,” Lane said.
A professional photographer, Lane said he was documenting the protest and paused to help a woman who had already been hit with pepper spray. That’s when Walls sprayed Lane and the woman.
“I was very hopeful up to this point that, yes, our system would do what it’s designed to do. But yet again, we are seeing exactly the opposite, which is no accountability,” Lane said. “Nothing is going to happen other than the reprimand the officer already got. And that’s the end of it.”
Lane and Walls spoke to each other Monday morning.
“To be honest, it was slightly awkward but also yet refreshing at the same time, to be able to sit down with Officer Walls face-to-face and really explain how I felt about this situation,” Lane said.
Since the protests, the Columbus Division of Police has made changes to its policies for crowd dispersal and use of force, as well as other policing practices.
“I can understand (Lane’s) disappointment because it doesn’t change the fact that he was pepper sprayed, and affected by that,” Nicodemus said. “But when we’re looking at what the police have to do, and what was going on down there, you know, it was as one person said — ‘Chaos down there.'”