Three police officers in Columbus, Ohio, faced criminal charges for their conduct during protests over the death of George Floyd last year, when officers in cities across the United States often used force to break up demonstrations.
Nationwide protests sparked allegations of police misconduct in several US cities. But only in a few — notably New York, Philadelphia and Buffalo, NY — any officers were charged with the crimes, and officers in Philadelphia and Buffalo were later cleared. In Columbus, the city last year ordered a special prosecutor and an independent investigator to evaluate complaints of police misconduct during protests there.
This led to the announcement on Wednesday that three officers had been charged. Police Department said The officers were assigned administrative duties pending the results of the criminal investigation.
On May 30, 2020, five days after Mr Floyd was murdered in police custody in Minneapolis, an officer, Tracy Shaw, was charged with three counts of assault, dereliction of duty and interfering with civil rights related to the protest.
Officer Shaw was alleged to have left his police vehicle and reached people on the sidewalk and sprinkled pepper on them. One woman told investigators that she and those who were sprayed “didn’t agitate the officer at all,” according to one complaint. The woman said she had told Officer Shaw that they were walking home.
Holly Kanode, a constable, was charged with one charge each of falsification and dereliction of duty. Aiding in the arrest of a woman on May 30, 2020, she was heard telling an officer in body camera footage that the woman grabbed another officer and slammed him to the ground. But body camera footage and another video submitted to the city showed no such attack, as per the complaint.
Philip Walls, an officer, was charged with two counts of assault, dereliction of duty and interference with civil rights. On May 29, 2020, he sprayed pepper on “peaceful protesters” standing on a sidewalk, including an “unknown old black woman” who had previously been sprayed with pepper, according to a complaint. According to the complaint, he again sprayed the woman with pepper, along with another woman who was trying to help her leave.
“We will continue to work to identify additional officers who may have committed misconduct,” special prosecutor Kathleen Garber said in a statement.
Mark C. Collins, an attorney whose firm is representing the three executives, said in an interview that his intention was to plead not guilty and that “we’re going to fight this tooth and nail in the trial.”
He said the officers acted within the scope of their duties based on their orders, that the allegations were primarily motivated by money spent on investigations and that top police officers were evading accountability.
“Instead of addressing it from the top down, they simply scapegoated the people at the bottom,” he said.
The city of Columbus has used Sergeant Shaw as an expert to testify in federal court on the use of force, and she teaches at the Police Academy, Mr. Collins said.
Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of Capital City Lodge No. 9 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement that, “After consultation with our Lodge Council, we believe that the officers acted reasonably within the scope of their duties.”
“Our officers are some of the best trained in the country and we welcome the accountability that comes with our jobs,” said Mr. Simpson. “Columbus police officers who have been charged with misconduct have a constitutional right to due process and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Charges were filed against the officers as the police department in Columbus remains under investigation following four fatal police shootings of black men from December to April. Each led to intense demonstrations, including one on April 12, in which protesters broke down a door at the police headquarters.
Although about 30 percent of Columbus residents are black, 85 percent of the police force is white. According to an operational review, a little more than half of all use-to-force cases surveyed recently in 2017 were directed at black residents.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement that the department’s response to the George Floyd protests “did not meet my or the community’s expectations.”
“The fact is that some Columbus police officers acted outside policy, abused their authority and may have committed crimes,” he said in the statement. “That’s why we engaged independent investigators to determine whether criminal charges should be filed, and today we got the answer. Officers who break the law should expect to be held accountable.”
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