Person bleeding on the chin and cops macing man

“Absolutely these are civil rights complaints of officers using excessive force and making false arrests. Automatically, (BakerHostetler) should have had more time. They had a clause that would have given them all the time they needed,” says Columbus attorney Fred Gittes

In the fallout of the BakerHostetler investigation, where the city spent half-a-million tax-payer dollars to fund what many are calling a “useless” investigation into the Columbus police response to protesters, one question raised is whether Mayor Ginther and City Council have true intentions or the resolve to make real change within the Columbus Division of Police?

And change is needed, not only in how the division polices certain Columbus urban neighborhoods but within the division itself, where the evidence is overwhelming that cliques of white officers, mostly male, have had too much control for decades over how the division is run and what type of officer is recruited and hiredso to maintain this control.

A proposed charter amendment (Issue 2) asking voters to create Civilian Police Review Board with the power to subpoena officers is on November’s ballot. If it were to fail, some activists have wondered whether Mayor Ginther has a “plan B” where the city will create the review board itself.

Former Columbus police Lieutenant and recruiter Anthony Wilson (PhD) was appointed by Mayor Ginther to sit on the 16-member Civilian Review Work Group, which should help lead to the city’s first Civilian Police Review Board. Wilson, who is African American and retired from law enforcement, believes Mayor Ginther’s heart is in the right place.

“I would not be on board if I thought this was a ruse,” said Wilson, also former Assistance Chief of Westerville Police. “This may sound like an exaggeration but my commitment to my family, friends, and the community is far too important to participate in something that I believe is a sham. It at any time I feel as though the efforts of the workgroup are not taken seriously, I will step down immediately.”

Other activists, however, have deep concerns that what the Mayor and City Council are expressing publicly – there will be change – will be far different than the change activists and Black Lives Matter are demanding and expecting.

Cynthia Brown, founder and president of the Columbus-based nonprofit De-Escalate Ohio HeartbeatMovement, believes the Mayor and City Council are quietly and surreptitiously setting up most of urban Columbus and all local BLM supporters for a serious let down.

“I believe the Mayor and City Council put (Issue 2) on the ballot so if the residents of Franklin County vote ‘no’, they are off the hook. Ask yourself, ‘Why are there no commercials or airtime bringing awareness, educating voters in Columbus?’ Most folks don't even know Issue 2 is on the ballot,” says Brown, who’s nephew, Kareem Ali Nadir Jones, was shot in the back and killed by Columbus police in 2017. “I fully agree (Council President) Hardin, along with his do-nothing other colleagues could have taken a vote regarding police executions and brutality cases in Columbus.”

Long-time Columbus activist attorney Fred Gittes has filed a federal civil-rights suit against Columbus police for excessive force against protesters. One plaintiff is 21-year-old Bernadette Calvey (pictured above), who was shot in the face by a police wooden bullet on the afternoon of May 30th in the Short North. An iconic and disturbing day in Columbus history to be sure, when both Joyce Beatty and Shannon Hardin were tear gassed.

Calvey claims the round was fired directly at her and had not been “skipped fired” or meant as a “knee knocker”, as police protocol calls for. Her scars could be permanent.

Calvey’s claim was part of the BakerHostetler investigation, which essentially was hired by the city to act as an independent Internal Affairs. But only one protestor allegation was sustained, and it was against an officer who improperly filled out a police report. In response to the BakerHosteler’s conclusions, Mayor Ginther said he was “surprised” and “angered”. 

BakerHosteler found Calvey’s complaint unfounded, and in their own report stated she was “likely struck by a police-fired projectile”.

“Why they would say it was ‘unfounded’ is incomprehensible to us,” says Gittes. “For some bizarre reason, which makes no sense, they unfounded it. Unfounded is the terminology used by the police department when a complaint doesn’t have any basis in fact. How could they possibly reach that conclusion?”

The Columbus police FOP, Lodge #9 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) limits the time the city can investigate police misconduct – in this case, a 90-day limit, and BakerHostetler contended this short window hampered their investigation.

But for excessive force complaints, there are exceptions to the 90-day rule, says Gittes. One being if the amount of evidence and circumstances are “unreasonable,” and Gittes believes the amount of police body cam video alone needing to be examined should have been warranted as “unreasonable.”

“It should have been obvious to BakerHostetler lawyers that they couldn’t do a thorough investigation in this time limit. There was a huge volume of material,” he says. “This was clearly unreasonable given the circumstances of these demonstrations and the number of officers involved. It should have been a violation of the labor contract.”

Another provision in the CBA, says Gittes, also removes time limits for officer criminal conduct investigations, or if an officer has been accused of a civil rights violation.

“Absolutely these are civil rights complaints of officers using excessive force and making false arrests,” says Gittes. “Automatically, (BakerHostetler) should have had more time. They had a clause that would have given them all the time they needed.”

Did BakerHostetler make a mistake? Should these expensive lawyers have pressured and litigated the FOP into an extension, which was obviously needed?

These answers are unclear, but the City did indeed request an extension from the FOP.

“The City did seek extensions from the FOP, all of which were denied,” Davis told the Free Press.

However, the City requested extensions based on Section 8.14 of the CBA, which states an extension “will not be unreasonably withheld by the Lodge.”

In letters forwarded to the Free Press from the City, the City did not specifically ask the FOP for an extension due to civil rights or criminal violations. Again, the CBA allows for this, says Gittes.

Nevertheless, the FOP told the City it “will not agree to any extensions, regardless of the reasons.”

Davis told the Free Press it should be noted that “criminal cases were not referred to BakerHostetler. Those are being reviewed by the former FBI agent.” Besides BakerHostetler, the City has hired a former FBI agent to investigate the police’s response to protesters.

With this said, the Free Press has to ask, the City believes the wooden bullet which struck Calvey in the face and could result in a permanent scar is not a criminal case?

Gittes says the bottom line is the City and BakerHosteter should have fought harder for an extension from the FOP, especially considering it involved blatant criminal violations and violations of civil rights.

“They didn’t need the Lodge’s permission if it involved potential criminal issues. If it’s unreasonable the City could have taken enough time as they wanted and fight about it in arbitration,” he says. “They have lots of other options. They don’t have to simply accept an unreasonable denial. That’s a violation of the contract.”

The Free Press reached out to BakerHostetler for a response but did not hear back before posting this article.

Other investigations into the Columbus police response to protesters are ongoing. As mentioned, the City hired a former FBI agent and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University is also reviewing the police’s protest response.