WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Westerville’s police chief said an encounter between two officers and civil rights attorney Emmanuel Olawale was “professional and polite” in response to Olawale saying he was the subject of racial profiling.
Olawale spoke to NBC4 on Monday about an incident that took place Saturday afternoon as he was disposing of trash in a dumpster outside of his office. When police arrived, he showed them his business card as well as his driver’s license, but when one of the officers started to record his ID, he asked them to stop.
“I think initially when they came to figure out if there was illegal dumping; I think that was justified,” Olawale said. “But after that identification and interaction, anything after that crosses the line.”
Olawale was not comfortable with officers running his driver’s license to check for a criminal record or outstanding warrants.
“I believe that was racial-profiling,” he said. “To them, the word of a Black man doesn’t really matter whether he’s an attorney or not, so instead of us just having that interaction and then walking away, but because I was Black, they had to reverify.”
Westerville police acknowledged to NBC4 on Monday that they were reviewing the incident, and on Tuesday, Chief Charles Chandler issued a response in addition to body-camera footage.
“The entire contact was less than three minutes,” Chandler said. “Additionally, Mr. Olawale offered his identification; the officers did not request it, they accepted his offer to provide the identification. In situations, an officer uses this information to write a report or take a statement. My expectation is that the officers provide as much information as possible during any call to assure our actions are justified, legal and professional.”
Olawale said he was fine with the interaction until the officers wanted to take his driver’s license to the police car.
“So instead of us just having that interaction and then walking away, but because I was Black, they had to reverify,” he said.
Two pieces of body-camera footage were released, one each from officers Dan Ruth and Matthew Baughman, with the clips redacted to not show details of Olawale’s driver’s license. Chandler noted that Ruth was training Baughman, a newly hired officer.
In the clips, Ruth took Olawale’s business card from him and handed the driver’s license to Baughman after confirming the names matched.
“Can I have it back?” Olawale asked Baughman. “Don’t run it. … You have no reason to.”
“We’re going to at least to mark it down,” Ruth said. “We’re going to take down your information.”
“Nope. I’m on my property putting trash in my dumpster,” Olawale said, later adding, “I’m a lawyer. I know my rights. I’m not violating any law. I’m on my property. There’s no suspicion. No one called anybody, so don’t run my ID. I’m only identifying myself so this won’t escalate.”
Baughman then returned the driver’s license to Olawale.
“I understand you come to check, but trying to run my ID to find anything, no, that’s illegal,” Olawale said.
“That is not illegal,” Ruth said in response, “but OK, you can finish dumping if you like.”
Back in their cruiser, Ruth said to Baughman, “All right, just turn around and get out of here, and then we’ll look him up.”
The clips end with the cruiser pulling away.
Chandler noted that Olawale said the inquiry was “appropriate” on social media and to NBC4 and also that Olawale did not contact police to raise any issues.
“I’m basing my comments on the body-worn camera, which I find to be completely in line with the expectations of WPD officers,” Chandler said.
Professor Dan Kobil with Capital University’s Law School is a constitutional law expert who had Olawale as a student. He says officers had the right to take the name down and run the name or license if they wanted. However, he says there was no need to take the license to the police car.
“Once they determined Mr. Olawale had every right to be there and was just discarding trash at his own office, the termination of the encounter was really called for at that point,” said Kobil.
NBC4 asked Kobil if he thinks Olawale’s constitutional rights were violated during the interaction.
“I think that there’s an argument that it may have been a violation,” Kobil said. “However, I think there’s a counterargument as well.”