Andrew Mitchell, killer cop, found not guilty (so far)
Young dark-haired woman

Donna Dalton Castleberry

Former Columbus police officer Andrew Mitchell was inexplicably exonerated by a jury this week for the brutal murder of 23-year-old Donna Dalton Castleberry. What was not brought before the jury was the fact, as reported in local media, that Mitchell remains in custody and “faces nine federal charges after being accused of forcing women to perform sexual acts in exchange for their freedom and lying to federal investigators, among other accusations. Trial in that case is scheduled to begin in July 2023.” (Columbus Dispatch).

What happened between Mitchell and Dalton?

As the Free Press reported in 2018:

“In Franklinton on August 23, Officer Andrew Mitchell shot 23-year-old Donna Dalton (Castleberry) eight times in his cruiser after she allegedly stabbed his hand with a knife.

Think about it. You are a 30-year grizzled veteran on the CPD [Columbus Police Department] vice squad. You’ve got 80 prostitution arrests under your belt just this calendar year, because your beat is the west side of the city where young women gather.

You are undercover. You are in an unmarked car. The rest of the story is unclear.

Of course, we don’t have a ‘he said, she said’ situation since ‘she’ is dead. And there are no witnesses.

Maybe no one saw what happened because somehow your car is parked in a secluded area with a young alleged sex worker inside, allegedly in the front seat. The passenger side door is allegedly against a wall, presumably preventing her from being able to open it and get out.

For some reason, she stabs you with a knife – a big one, albeit one that the CPD has yet to reveal to the public.

You feel your life is threatened and are distraught over your bleeding hand, brought on by a barely-100-pound young woman in your car. Yet you manage to get out your gun and shoot her eight times ‘in self defense.’”

Justice for Donna

Who was Donna Dalton? She was a mother of two, a daughter, a sister. The Free Press described her:

“She was a typical All-American girl in high school. She attended Focus Learning Academy, was a good softball player and at one point she was a cheerleader. Donna Dalton had dreams as a girl to join the Columbus Police Department and, because she loved horses, to become a mounted police officer.

But her dreams quickly got sidetracked and turned to nightmares. She became pregnant at 18 and had two children before she was 21. She fell into toxic relationships with troubled men and began abusing painkillers and drugs. An attractive young woman, Donna supported her habit by becoming an exotic dancer at The House of Babes on South High Street. Later, her addiction dragged her into prostitution on the mean streets of Columbus's west side, on the infamous Sullivant Avenue.

There she spiraled into run-ins and arrests by the vice squad of the Columbus Police Department (CPD).”

Mitchell was already under investigation

At the time of Donna’s murder, Mitchell was the subject of a CPD Internal Affairs investigation, according to the Appeal website, and there were “multiple previous complaints” about his behavior.

In October 2018, the Free Press reported:

“Dalton’s stunned family has received only three personal items retrieved from Donna's body: her bracelet, her belly ring, and a hair tie. There has been no autopsy or toxicology results submitted. The CPD had refused the family's request for a rape kit examination procedure on her body. Donna's body was cremated.

Bobbi McCalla, Donna's older sister, says the family has been ignored or treated disrespectfully by CPD and County Prosecutor Ron Obrien's office. ‘There is something very wrong with how secretive and evasive they are’ said McCalla.

Dalton’s ‘family believes Donna was killed for something she knew,’ according to local ABC news. Columbus TV10 noted that Mitchell was under a “separate criminal investigation surrounding property” he owned. His three known rental properties have had over 500 police runs for incidents involving homicide, sex crimes and vice-related activities.

‘We know that Donna knew Mitchell before the murder and that Donna had assisted Mitchell in stealing west side dealers’ drugs from their homes. Her street sisters (sex workers) are very suspicious of Mitchell and his fellow vice officers,’ McCalla said.

Donna's family is cynical and suspect Mitchell's foul play. They believe that Donna may have had much damaging information about Officer Mitchell’s illegal activities. Even before the murder, Mitchell had many complaints lodged against him by the public. ‘Most of the street sisters knew that he had ‘girls’ coming in and out of his apartment at all times of the day and night.’ said McCalla.

The family also speculates that Mitchell could have cut his own hand as a cover for shooting Donna eight times.”

The first murder trial

How did the jury exonerate Mitchell when these are the facts, as reported by the Free Press at his first trial – which ended in a mistrial– in 2022:

“The trial began Tuesday morning at 11 am with a packed visitor gallery causing a small number of Dalton supporters who wanted inside the courtroom to be turned away. After initial instructions from the judge to the newly seated jury, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Sheryl Prichard began her opening argument.

Prichard recounted the sequence of events leading up to Dalton’s death. Mitchell drove his unmarked vehicle to the west side neighborhood known as The Bottoms that morning and saw Dalton apparently looking for a sex customer. He indicated his interest and she got into the front seat of his unmarked car. He turned on an audio recorder and drove to a location she selected. They negotiated a $25 price for her service. He pulled up close to the side of the building blocking her ability to open her passenger door. He told her she was under arrest.

And then Prichard played the recording from the moments that followed. Within seconds several people in the courtroom were sobbing loudly.

First, they heard Dalton accuse Mitchell of lying that he was a police officer. She asked to see his badge, which he did not have. As they were arguing, a man came out of the building, and she yelled to him to call the police. Her screams for help became louder. The sounds of a physical struggle became louder. She screamed, ‘Do not put your hands on me!’ 

Prichard concluded that even after Dalton stabbed Mitchell, he was capable of leaving the car, so was not in any danger of severe injury or death.

When another member of the defense team, attorney Kaitlyn Stephens, presented her opening argument, she told the jury that they will see a fuzzy video from a nearby security camera that, when synced with the audio, will prove that Mitchell was in danger because during the fight Dalton put her back toward the dashboard and her foot on Mitchell’s neck. In that moment, Stephens concluded, he did fear for his life, and therefore, his use of lethal force was reasonable.

That is the fact in dispute.”

The jury in that first trial deliberated for eighteen hours over three days but could not reach a verdict. They also did not hear the full story of Mitchell's alleged illegal behavior and that he was not facing the death penalty. In this week’s trial, the jury is said to have deliberated for only five hours before presenting a not-guilty verdict.

The City of Columbus settled a civil lawsuit brought by Dalton’s estate for over one million dollars in November of 2020, but there is still no accountability of Columbus police officers for murdering the city’s residents they vow to “protect and serve.”  

Ed Note: Since our first articles on the case, the number of shots reported changed from eight to three.