COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The independent investigator looking into potential wrongdoing by Columbus police officers during protests last summer has ordered six of them to answer questions, offering protection against prosecution.
Rick Wozniak, a retired FBI officer, has been hired by the city to investigate police actions during the protests. A news release issued Thursday by the city’s Department of Public Safety reported that only five police officers, out of 60, have answered his questions, and they did so only after being guaranteed that they would not face prosecution.
Of the officers who declined, 44 did so through an attorney. Wozniak has issued “Garrity notifications” — named after a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that says an officer’s statements under oath cannot be used against them — to six officers. Although the officers can assert their rights to not answer questions based on possible self-incrimination, the news release said that any of the six who refuse to be interviewed could be subject to departmental discipline for insubordination.
Working with Wozniak is special prosecutor Kathleen Garner, who said in the news release that there is probable cause to believe certain police officers committed misdemeanor crimes and that other officers witnessed them.
“This investigation has one focus: accountability to the people of Columbus,” Garber said. “No one is above the law. That includes law enforcement. If laws were broken, we will hold those responsible accountable. It is concerning and disappointing that the people standing in the way of that accountability are fellow officers.”
The identities of the six police officers were not released.
Earlier in the investigation, city officials posted several video clips online, asking for public assistance in identifying civilians and police involved.
Attorneys for representing the officers by way of the Fraternal Order of Police call the order unconstitutional. The law firm of Harshman and Wannemacher issued the following statement:
Members of the Columbus Division of Police (CPD) enjoy the same constitutional guarantees as any other citizen. Recently, the City ordered numerous members of CPD, predominately supervisors, to submit to a criminal interview under threat of discipline or discharge. This action violates the collective bargaining agreement with the City as well as both the Ohio and U.S. Constitutions. The City knows this. Just last week, the City issued unconstitutional subpoenas to members of CPD before immediately rescinding the subpoenas and conceding that its actions were improper. The City is once again engaging in egregiously unconstitutional conduct.
Not only are the City’s actions in violation of the contract and Constitutions, but by ordering supervisors to disclose statements made to them that are protected by Garrity, the City is forcing them into an impossible situation: disclose statements protected by Garrity and violate subordinates’ constitutional rights which exposes that supervisor to potentially devastating personal liability or refuse to violate the Constitution and face termination. The contract and Constitutions forbid such conduct.
To prevent the unlawful orders from being enforced, a grievance, as well as another action in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas will be filed today. The City will no doubt continue to engage in the same tired pattern of demonizing its officers because they refuse to forgo their contractual and constitutional rights and expose themselves to personal liability. It remains our hope, however, that the City will take accountability and rescind the unlawful orders.