Protestor being maced

It is arguably the most significant image from Columbus in the year 2020, and that’s saying a lot. It’s not an actual photo, but a screen shot of a video, one which went viral.

The man throwing up his arms (“Don’t shoot!”) is 31-year-old Randy Kaigler, a State Tested Nurse Aide, a father who loves to play with his kids, do family activities. He actually shouted, “I can’t breathe!”

It was Saturday, May 30, 2020, the same day when City Council President Shannon Hardin and US Rep. Joyce Beatty were sprayed.

“He (the officer) literally looked me in my face, laughed, and sprayed me in my face,” said Kaigler, who says it was his dad who called him that night asking if this was him in the disturbing photo.

Kaigler claims he was not a bad actor that day or other days he was downtown. “I saw a lot of people during the protests do a lot of dumb shit.” Instead, he had pleaded with others to not damage property.

“It’s just the little things for me,” said Kaigler. “I’m a happy person. I try to remain positive and use that not only to help myself but others as well.

“If I see homeless people, or just anybody in general that needs help and I am in a position to help, even with just giving $5, I am going to give it. I grew up that way.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Hey, why would you give your last couple of dollars to this person?’  They may not have ate for three or four days, and I just ate this morning. I’d rather give them the last $5 in my pocket because I can go home and eat.”

He’s also a nonviolent felon, a charge from his mid-20s which occurred in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the scene of a large white supremacist rally in 2017. Kaigler served his time – 18 months.

“One of the worst cities you could ever live in as Black male period,” he said.

Some may judge Kaigler strictly by his felony conviction. Those with felony convictions often live lives radically altered, forcing them to survive sometimes in ways the privilege condemn. Those with felonies sometimes find putting food on the table to be difficult because getting pulled over multiple times a month makes it a challenge to even get the groceries home.

Now Kaigler is one of the 32 Alsaada plaintiffs who agreed to a $5.75 million settlement following their federal civil rights suit against the City of Columbus and several members of the Columbus Division of Police, including former Chief Thomas Quinlan.

The suit also convinced the City to permanently ban officers from using pepper spray, wooden bullets, and other overly-aggressive crowd control measures against peaceful protesters – something Kaigler is proud of.

A third of the Alsaada plaintiffs were white women, such as 21-year-old Bernadette Calvey. She has scars on her facefrom a wooden bullet which she claims was fired directly at her by Columbus police while she stood and chanted slogans on a sidewalk. Officers were only allowed to fire “knee-knockers” towards the ground. 

Even Division officers themselves publicly blasted their own response, such as Lt. Melissa McFadden who’s seeking change in the Division. 

“This operation was a total disaster for our leadership,” she wrote in her 2020 book Walking the Thin Black Line: Confronting Racism in the Columbus Division of Police. “We didn’t do anything we had been taught to do to minimize the chance of a riot. Instead 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 sergeants, but that day for some unknown reason almost everyone was issued a large Mark 9 cannister.”

Kaigler told the Free Press, like the felony charge, the screenshot has negatively affected his life.

He came to Columbus in 2018 and resided in North Linden. Within this short window his bad experiences “with Columbus police are ridiculous.” His stories are consistent with what others have told the Free Press – police behavior that is over-aggressive, hyper-insulting, with guns being drawn.  

Policing is seemingly an impossible job for your typical civilian, but for those who embrace it, and able to make $100,000 after four years on the job, professionalism should be something the community can ask for, if not demand.

Kaigler has escaped Columbus because the screenshot caused worry and perhaps undue paranoia. This could be the same for other Alsaada plaintiffs, as the civil suit will forever remain publicly accessible long after the settlement money is spent.

“I ended up having to move from Columbus,” he said, telling the Free Press he believes his motorcycle and car were both sabotaged at one point. “I’ve had people calling me with blocked numbers saying they’re going to ‘kill me.’ I don’t know if it’s from counter protesters or CPD.” 

He claims to have been pulled over seven times by Columbus police since May 30, 2020.

“It wasn’t about the money for me,” says Kaigler about the settlement. “It was about making change. Let’s continue to remain positive to make change.”