Investigations conducted for citizen complaints made against Columbus Police during summer protests downtown resulted in only one sustained instance of misconduct, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced in a press conference Tuesday.
A team of 10 lawyers from Columbus law firm BakerHostetler conducted 36 investigations into complaints of police misconduct against demonstrators during protests at the end of May and beginning of June. The investigations resulted in officers exonerated in four cases, sustained allegations against one officer, nine unfounded complaints, two withdrawn complaints and 25 unsustained allegations, Jennifer Edwards, a partner at BakerHostetler, said.
Edwards said findings were limited to five categories: exonerated, meaning the evidence suggests the officer participated in the alleged conduct but did so lawfully; sustained, meaning the complaint is supported by available evidence and violated police rules of conduct; unfounded, meaning evidence does not suggest the conduct occurred; withdrawn, meaning the complaining person retracted their complaint; and not sustained, meaning the evidence does not suggest either way whether unlawful conduct occurred.
All findings are based on the preponderance of the evidence, a legal standard Edwards described as “more likely than not” that the incident and misconduct occurred.
“I was surprised, and in many cases, angered at the results,” Ginther said. “The results from these investigations prove to me more clearly than ever before the need for police reform.”
Ginther said BakerHostetler faced challenges during investigations due to the unwillingness of some officers to share information and incomplete or unfiled reports officers are obligated to submit following use of force, “making it virtually impossible” for the firm to identify the officers involved in some cases. Some officers’ actions were deemed to be within police policy, which Ginther said should be changed.
Other investigative interview protections provided to officers as a result of bargaining between the city and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, also posed obstacles to the investigation, Edwards said. She also said in many instances, especially at the beginning of the protests, officers responded to calls for assistance and were not with their assigned units or squads.
“There were several circumstances in which CPD has no record of where individual officers were, and the individual officers have no idea who was in the car with them or who was standing beside them,” Edwards said.
The Lantern filed a citizen complaint after three Lantern editors were pepper sprayed during protests at Lane Avenue and North High Street June 1 after identifying themselves as members of the press.
Twenty-one incidents were turned over to a retired FBI agent contracted by the city to investigate for criminal charges, Ginther said.
Sarah Szilagy contributed reporting.