Investigations Into Resident Complaints of Police Stifled by Officer Aversion
The results of an investigation by the law firm BakerHostetler, in which the firm was charged with reviewing complaints by residents against Columbus police officers during protests early this summer, appears to have been stifled by some officers unwilling to share complete information during the investigation.
Mayor Andrew Ginther said during a Tuesday press conference that the majority of cases handed over to BakerHostetler — out of 32 in total — returned as “not sustained,” meaning there was not enough evidence to prove or disprove resident complaints. He said only one complaint so far has been sustained.
“I am frustrated and angry that police behavior that did not meet community expectations will not be met with swift discipline,” he said. “BakerHostetler identified the challenges they faced in these investigations – including the unwillingness of some officers to share information and incomplete after-action reports by other officers, making it virtually impossible in some cases to identify the officers involved.”
He said the results from the investigation proved the need for police reform even more.
BakerHostetler completed an administrative investigation that looked specifically at officer use of force and whether actions were within Columbus Police Department policies or directives, through to June 15.
June 15 is when the city changed its policy on chemical agents. BakerHostetler has not completed investigations made after this date.
Jennifer Edwards, a partner with BakerHostetler, noted that in addition to officers’ unwillingness to provide information, other challenges to the investigation included the ability to identify officers visually because of riot gear.
Mayor Ginther noted later policy changes such as how officers identified themselves and the use of body cameras resulted in fewer complaints. However, he said, there were still instances where officers violated the public’s trust.
Outside of the investigation by the law firm, more serious complaints were referred to retired FBI agent Richard Wozniak to investigate for potential criminal charges. 21 cases in total were referred to Wozniak and are still being investigated. If the conduct in those cases is determined to not be criminal, they may be referred back to BakerHostetler.
Columbus officials responded to the results of the investigation with disappointment:
“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. 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.”City Council President Shannon Hardin
“Disappointment and disbelief dominate in my reaction to the Baker Hostetler investigation of my reported incident,” said Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce, who, along with Council President Hardin, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and other demonstrators, were pepper-sprayed during protests in May. “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.”Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce
“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. 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.”Congresswoman Joyce Beatty