Police arresting someone

The following story has three sources, a local attorney acting as a protest legal observer and two current Columbus police officers. All insisted on remaining anonymous.

After all that has happened, one would think our Columbus police would have thought twice before arresting more peaceful protesters who are simply exercising their rights.

But on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, June 23-24, 2020, video and eye-witness evidence show certain units of Columbus police once again utilized the “jump out” strategy to target protesters and perhaps deliberately target protester leadership.

For instance, on Tuesday night in front of City Hall several marked police cruisers suddenly raced on the scene to confront peaceful protesters. Unprovoked officers emerged from their cruisers to arrest without warning at least nine protesters in just a few minutes. The protesters were simply holding up signs, chanting and not blocking traffic.

“Three police officers showed up who looked like supervisors, and after that four more police cars come, and soon as they came the officers hopped out of their vehicle and just started grabbing people,” said a local attorney who has been attending protests to act as a legal observer. “To my understanding they grabbed two women who are movement leaders, and grabbed three cyclists off their bikes and several unknowns.”

According to police records one of the activist leaders arrested was Hana Abdur-Rahim, who is perhaps best known for the iconic photo of her standing on a table during a City Council meeting in 2016 when anti-police protesters overtook the meeting. Abdur-Rahim was released later that night without being charged.

“My speculation, my feeling is that this action was pre-planned somehow to target movement leaders, to weaken the movement,” said the legal observer.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio members also witnessed the arrests of leading activists on Tuesday night.

“Columbus police have been arresting peaceful protesters this evening, including community organizers who have worked directly with us to protect reproductive freedom in Ohio,” they tweeted out, urging their followers to donate to the Columbus Freedom Fund.

While some protesters were not charged, such as Abdur-Rahim, others did not get off so easily. Some were charged with aggravated riot, a fourth-degree felony. They were released but must eventually answer to these charges.

“Those charges are very questionable. There has to be an underlying offense of violence to go from a first-degree misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony,” said the legal observer. “This definitely seems like a constitutional violation because they were essentially arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights and charged with bogus felonies.”

The Free Press spoke to two Columbus police officers who know the department has put together a task force to scrutinize videos so to create some type of strategy to end the protests and also file charges and arrest those committing vandalism.

“I do know that they are in the process of looking at videos of protests from police body cams or the community crime cameras (at intersections) and they are trying to identify the protesters from those videos so they can arrest them and file charges on them,” said one of the officers.

The officer said they are also trying to identify protesters by finding a lawful way to identify them. Making them show ID if they are jaywalking, for instance.

“They are having a difficult time getting them off the streets. So it’s a way to do that. I say it’s more about retaliation. It’s been two weeks, now you’re doing this? Now all of a sudden you are going to go back and start charging people? It’s a combination of all: to end the protests and retaliation. If they did break the law they should have been arrested then.”

Another officer suggested certain Columbus police units or what they even referred to as “cliques” have their “own way of doing business and they are pretty much left alone for the most part.”

With this in mind, consider how the now disbanded Columbus police VICE unit once acted.

“SWAT has their own way of doing their thing, their job. They do have their chain of command that they have to listen to (Chief Quinlan). With SWAT, they are doing what their chain of command is telling them to do because they are justifying their actions at the end of the day. When there’s a use of force, or a shooting that SWAT is involved, that has to go through the chain-of-command, up to the Chief, and they haven’t found them in the wrong.” 

The officer says the first week of protests was a disaster because the majority of the force didn’t follow their own protocols on how to deal with peaceful protesters, even though there is “a book” that has been repeatedly updated over the previous few years on how to de-escalate protests.

In December 2019, says the officer, the Matrix report influenced department leadership to finally add stricter protocols on when to use pepper spray.

“That first weekend they didn’t follow any of the book, their own rules,” they said. “We’ve been so used to spraying crowds without them showing any kind of violence in the past that we kept doing business as usual, regardless of the new rule.

Who should be held responsible then? Were these Columbus police officers refusing to follow orders and acting on their own accordance believing they would not face discipline and their jobs never in jeopardy?

“If Chief Quinlan really wanted to prevent this, why would you keep it in the hands of officers to make individual decisions on when and when not to spray?

“If Chief Quinlan didn’t want pepper spray, he could have removed all the pepper spray that was out there. Chief Quinlan could easily order, ‘this is what I want done and it shall be done.’ That’s how much authority he has, it’s not like we are a paramilitary organization. So if they were doing this against his will why wasn’t anyone disciplined?”

The mayor’s office has promised an independent investigation into the police response during those first nights and weekend.

The Free Press is not offering these officers’ names to protect their jobs and safety. But both officers we spoke with first want to let peaceful protesters know they respect their energy and passion – even when they have stood face-to-face against protesters.

“The protesters that are peaceful are awesome. They are saying what they want to say. The ones that are being destructive, I have an issue with. But I love it,” said another officer.

“We see what happens in the black community and how the black community is treated. We see the unarmed black men being shot. The George Floyd murder. We see all that. And we aren’t in agreement with that at all. We are empathetic to the Black Lives Matter protesters. We are kind of stuck in the middle because we have a job to do.”

The officer continued, “People tell me, ‘you should quit, you should quit.’ But me being on the department helps the black community more than anything else for what I believe. I’m not going to be mistreating people and allow it under my watch, and never have.”