Collage of photos about the protests

From right to left, top to bottom: Plaintiff Randy Kaigler, Plaintiff Bernadette Calvey, lead attorney Fred Gittes, and lead plaintiff Tammy Fournier Alsaada.

The federal lawsuit against the Columbus Division of Police’s overly aggressive and war-like response to mostly peaceful protesters is underway this week with People’s Justice Project’s Tammy Fournier Alsaada as lead plaintiff and former Chief Thomas Quinlan, the City of Columbus, and other officers as defendants.

Mayor Ginther testified on Monday for two hours, and Quinlan is scheduled to testify Wednesday morning 9 a.m. The trial can be accessed by calling 646-749-3112 with the access code 347 407 869.

On the fateful day of May 30, 2020, Alsaada was near Broad and High when she learned protesters were being arrested. She peacefully sought out Division commanding officers for explanations and to resolve any ongoing conflicts. But when she approached a line of officers, she was pepper sprayed without provocation.

An additional12 other plaintiffs were protesters.

Long-time Columbus activist attorney Fred Gittes is a lead attorney for the suit. His social justice history is well-documented, representing athletes from Ohio State who were assaulted by police to Somali residents killed by police.

“These were civil rights violations, that’s our position and we think it’s obvious, and they were retaliated against for demonstrating,” said Gittes to the Free Press recently. “They weren’t throwing things, weren’t attacking people. Many of them were just on the sidewalk protesting. Yet they were sprayed, shot, thrown to the ground, had their shoulders fractured or other damage done to their body. Some were arrested without any basis.”

The lawsuitis seeking monetary damages from injuries and changes to Division policies on how to handle peaceful protests, among other demands.

The suit alleges that during the demonstrations that erupted late May 2020, the Division’s officers were unprepared to handle large crowds of protesters exercising their rights of assembly and expression when they gathered downtown. The Division’s officers “had received minimal and ineffective training” alleges the suit, and “were subject to vague, ineffective and rarely enforced policies regarding the need to handle protester without using force or using the least amount of force or using the least amount of non-lethal force.”

Furthermore, the suit alleges: “Many Columbus police officers and their supervisors…nurse an abiding hatred of the Black Lives Matter movement believing that it hurts the image of police.”

A high-ranking and long-time Division commanding officer agrees with most of the suit’s allegations.

Lt. Melissa McFadden has spent over two decades protecting Columbus while also seeking much needed reform within the Division. She wrote this in her recent bookWalking the Thin Black Line: Confronting Racism in the Columbus Division of Police about one day of the protests she had to police – that fateful Saturday, May 30:

“The operation was a total disaster for our leadership…we failed with basic leadership responsibilities that left officers free to operate with rogue tactics, like the inappropriate use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters.

The pepper spray is normally only carried by the sergeants, but that day for some unknown reason almost everyone was issued a large Mark 9 canister…the multiple incidents of brutal attacks in citizens for no justifiable reason are inexcusable.

…For many in the Columbus Division of Police and the FOP, the protest and the police response was just a fun battle in the ongoing war against Black people. It was just an inconvenient that white people showed up to help…”

It was an iconic and disturbing day in Columbus history to be sure, when both Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and then-Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin were pepper sprayed during the demonstration. 

Other plaintiffs include:

·      Bernadette Calvey (pictured above) who was shot in the face by a police wooden bullet on the afternoon of May 30 in the Short North.

·      Aleta Mixon, a mother who raced downtown to pick her daughter up after learning the protest on the night of May 29 had turned violent. Upon arriving downtown, she approached a female officer for help but then a male officer stepped in and pepper sprayed her at point blank range without provocation.   

·      Randy Kaigler, a Black male, approached several Columbus officers on May 29, raised his hands and said, “I can’t breathe,” and was promptly pepper sprayed directly in the face (picture above).

·      Talon Garth, a Black male, on the May 31st was in the intersection of Broad and High when an armored SWAT vehicle approached and demanded a hundred or so protesters to disperse. The protesters instead sat down. After a water bottle was thrown towards the armored vehicle, SWAT officers responded by spraying the seated crowd with wooden bullets. Garth was struck ten times by wooden bullets, one fracturing a bone in his foot.

Lt. McFadden in her book perhaps best sums up what happened on May 30:

“We had all the tools and power to make that day an amazing experience for everyone working to eradicate racism in the world. But instead we trotted out our best version of racist aggression and made sure everyone learned exactly how much it persists.”