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Man being arrested

Photo by Raul Arias

Activists have been under heavy surveillance through body cams, street cameras and their social media, and many were explicitly targeted for arrest while on downtown streets over the previous several weeks, but Columbus police have entered a new strategic phase to end the protests and kill the movement.

The Free Press has confirmed the Columbus police began issuing warrants about a week ago against activists without the individual knowing, which is common practice for some serious crimes, but not for peacefully protesting.

After one warrant was secretly issued, the activist was then arrested several days later while protesting.

Several more activists, after discovering a warrant had been issued for their arrest, decided to turn themselves in, said a defense attorney who is representing these activists.

But instead of turning themselves into police, says the defense attorney, they decided on seeing the duty judge. The judge then set the warrant aside, or they plead not guilty and a recognizance bond was set.

The activist who was arrested for his “phantom” warrant had been charged with obstruction of official police business when he tried to verbally prevent police from impounding a car during a previous night’s protest.

Another activist was issued a warrant for obstruction after police searched a car while impounding it at the protests, and found her driver’s license inside the car even though it wasn’t her vehicle, says the defense attorney, who wished to remain anonymous so to protect her client’s privacy.

Police have also issued warrants to cyclists for blocking traffic.

The defense attorney, after speaking with city prosecutors, believes 10 to 20 activists have been issued warrants without them knowing and on charges strictly related to protesting.

“I think they are within their procedures to do this, but basically they are trying to use a variety of different tools to suppress the activists,” says the defense attorney. “They could have easily given them a summons at the time, right when it happened, instead of this delayed response. I don’t know why they didn’t deal with it right then.

“They are trying to pick off as many activists as they can so to weaken the movement. Give peoples charges, mess up their careers, get people stressed out so they won’t protest.”

One of the activists issued a phantom warrant is 21-year-old activist Earl Louis Jones IV who has regularly been downtown protesting. Jones was tipped-off by other activists who began searching Franklin County court records to see if they had a warrant.

Jones soon found out his warrant, also a charge for obstruction of police official business, was for a day (July 11th) when he wasn’t even downtown protesting. Jones is one of the few activists who has actually sat down with police to discuss change. So he called Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight about the warrant.

“When I asked her about it, she said, ‘They probably have some video evidence on you,’” said Jones. “When I asked her if I could see it, I got no response.”

Jones went to court and had the warrant set aside and is awaiting his court date. This is the second time he’s had (bogus) charges brought against him for protesting.

He was charged driving down a one-way street during a night of protesting, but the judge dropped the charge after he explained how it was a simple mistake on his part. He was also charged with a suspended license, but had that charge dropped as well because he was able to prove his license was active and not suspended.

“They are trying every method they can to thwart the movement. I am not going to allow them to stop me, but I am also going to protect myself from the law itself because clearly they are trying to dictate what the law is,” said Jones. “I am not going to be scared away. Now that my warrant was set aside, I will be down there.”

The defense attorney representing some of the activists with the phantom warrants said she’s witnessed through discovery that Columbus police – and potentially the Department of Homeland Security – are monitoring the Facebook pages of activists so to hand over evidence to prosecution.

One significant question is whether Mayor Ginther and City Council are aware of the phantom warrants and have they signed-off?

The defense attorney believes this isn’t the case. Several City Council members in June called to drop the curfew charges of protesters, and most were, while at the same time Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein stated publicly he “stands with those exercising their constitutional rights to demand a new culture of justice in Columbus”.

More likely is that the Columbus police and their FOP are acting rogue (once again) by issuing these phantom warrants.

A recent FOP letter to Klein and Mayor Ginther perhaps hinted that the Columbus police was going to enter this new strategic stage to end the protests. The letter essentially said because the FOP and police are charged with enforcing public safety and you aren’t allowing us to do so, we are going to go ahead and use any means we need to control public safety.

“They basically gave a fuck you to the city,” said the defense attorney.