Beatty, Hardin, others welcome DOJ probe of Columbus police, but FOP says officers being 'demonized'
Area political and civil-rights leaders said they would welcome an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into racial bias by Columbus police that has been formally requested by Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein
But the head of the local Fraternal Order of Police said the request for a DOJ probe is just another example of officers being relentlessly "demonized" by politicians.
Ginther and Klein cosigned a letter sent Tuesday requesting the DOJ conduct a review of Columbus police operations "identifying any and all racial biases in policing efforts and offering findings and coordinated solutions for reform."
In a statement posted Thursday morning to his Twitter feed, Ginther said he discussed the potential for the investigation with "faith and community leaders, the Ohio congressional delegation and many others" before sending the letter.
"It has become clear that we will not be able to effect the rapid, significant and sustainable change we all desire without different tools," Ginther wrote. "We believe this will help provide an environment that fosters trust between residents and police — and will ultimately lead to a Columbus that is safer for everyone."
U.S. Rep Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland encouraging the DOJ investigation. She began her letter by listing the names of six Black people killed by Columbus police, including Henry Green and Ma'Khia Bryant.
"These are the names of members of my community killed by law enforcement," Beatty wrote. "While the fact patterns in each case differ — some were involved in dangerous confrontations, others were completely innocent of wrongdoing, some were just children — all, I believe, avoidable. All were tragedies in their own way. One undeniable constant is that they were all lives of Black members of my community cut short at the hands of police."
Beatty also referenced her own experience being pepper sprayed by police at a protest in late May 2020 and the Matrix Consulting Group report that said a study that showed force was used disproportionately against minority communities by police.
"It is clear to me that federal intervention is necessary to confront these systemic failings, correct longstanding issues and restore the public's confidence in those who have sworn to protect and serve them," Beatty wrote.
City Council President Shannon Hardin said Wednesday night that he was pleased to see Ginther take action on an idea he had proposed earlier this month.
"Last week, I advanced this request in a series of calls to Mayor Ginther & City Attorney Klein, & today I’m pleased to hear the Mayor is now agreeing to ask for DOJ intervention," Hardin said in a statement posted on Twitter. "It is time to open up and look at the Division’s policies, practices, and procedures and make reform a reality."
Hardin's colleague on council, Shayla Favor, also tweeted her support for an investigation by the DOJ.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, said the officers it represents in the Columbus Division of Police will continue to do their jobs, regardless of what investigations may come.
"Officers are relentlessly condemned and demonized, even when the officer's actions are consistent with the training and the law," Simpson said. "Politicians constantly vilifying officers breeds contempt for authority, emboldens the criminal element and has led to a mass exodus of law enforcement officers from the profession."
Simpson said Columbus has seen the direct impact, with the pace of homicides in 2021 set to exceed that of 2020 — the deadliest year in the city's history.
"The majority of the citizens appreciate the fact that officers place their lives on the line every day to protect them," Simpson said. "Our members will continue to protect and serve their communities and conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism, even when our leaders and politicians do not."
Ginther's office said Thursday that the involvement of the DOJ would not hinder ongoing contract negotiations with the police union.
Robin Davis, Ginther's deputy chief of staff for communications, said the city "requested the DOJ come to our city as partners to identify what additional reforms are necessary to improve policing, where disparities exist in policing and what change must occur to rectify those disparities. We also want to rely on the expertise of the DOJ to implement national best practices in policing. We are aware that if the Division is unable or unwilling to make change on its own, then federal litigation and the issuance of a consent decree may be necessary.
The announcement Wednesday of a request for a DOJ investigation was made hours after an attorney for Bryant's family said they wanted a federal investigation into her death.
A group of local leaders, calling themselves the Columbus Police Accountability Project, held a Thursday news conference to demand a federal investigation as well.
Local civil rights attorney Sean Walton, a member of the group and who also represents the mother of Casey Goodson Jr., who was killed by Franklin County Sherriff's office deputy Jason Meade in December, said in a statement on behalf of the group Wednesday night that the DOJ investigation is welcome, but just a step.
"We are glad that Mayor Ginther has finally acknowledged what community members have recognized for years: the Columbus police force under his leadership is out of control and needs federal oversight," Walton said. "We implore that the DOJ recognize the CPD’s long-standing patterns and practices, and center accountability around the needs of these families and community members. Throughout all his years in office, Mayor Ginther has failed to show any meaningful efforts to reform the CPD, letting police officers run rampant without accountability or regard for human life whatsoever."
At the news conference Thursday, Walton said: “ The only cooperation we want from the mayor’s office is to step back" and let the DOJ investigate.
" ... We must be allowed the opportunity as a city to heal from years and years and years of trauma inflicted upon us by the Division Of Police,” he said.
Walton said the group wants a consent decree and won't be satisfied unless there are court orders setting a timeline for change to take place.
Another member of the accountability group, Stephanie Hightower, of the Columbus Urban League, said: "Our children are now part of a bloodline of trauma that we should all be ashamed of. We cannot have individuals who are scared of Black and brown people sitting on the police force.”
Walton on Wednesday night also criticized Ginther's use of the term "young woman" to describe the 16-year-old Bryant, saying she was a child and Ginther's word choice "demonstrates how out-of-touch and disconnected he is from the reality that our communities face on a day-to-day basis."
Fred Gittes, a local civil rights lawyer who has sued Columbus police over excessive use of force, said a "river of racism" has dominated the police division for years and he welcomes a federal investigation.
"It's hurting the good officers here," said Gittes, who is also among lawyers representing 26 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit accusing Columbus police of violating their civil rights and using excessive force during protests in late May and June after the murder of George Floyd by ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
"There's a culture problem in the department, and it's going to take a long time to fix it," Gittes said. "The division has a history of not holding their officers and supervisors responsible for excessive force, especially against Black citizens."