Mayor Ginther and photo of protester

A street medic and Mayor Ginther testified Friday, February 26, in the federal protester civil rights suit against the City of Columbus and both recounted a similar storyline: their desperate attempt to put out a raging fire. For the street medic it was the wrath of the Columbus Division of Police inflicted on protesters, and for the Mayor, his effort to rein in what many believe is the long-time rogue Columbus Division of Police

For the second time in the trial’s first weekGinther was questioned for roughly two hours saying George Floyd’s death was a “modern-day lynching” which reinforced his “commitment to reform the Columbus Division of Police and policing in general.”

“Not only do we need to dramatically change the Division of Police, taking it from being a 20th-century law enforcement organization to a 21st-century community policing organization, and dramatically increase the diversity…but we have a culture issue within the Division of Police and I need a transformational change agent,” said the Mayor about his promise to hire a Chief from outside the Division.

The suit, Alsaada et. Al. vs. City of Columbus, charges that Columbus police used excessive force against those peaceful protesters because of the message they were advocating for – their support for Black Lives Matter.

Ginther continued, “We are making some significant progress but still have a long way to go. We know the Division of Police has to change. I’m committed to that. Have been committed to that ever since I ran for Mayor [in 2015]. It’s been a top priority for me.”

Before Ginther’s testimony, street medic Duck Bardus, trained and certified by doctors, took the stand as a witness for the plaintiffs.

Bardus, who’s worked over a hundred protests (Standing Rock for example), described the first week of Columbus protests as “by far the worst situations I have ever been in as a medic or a human being.”

He recounted a chilling story from the fateful May 30 weekend when Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and then-Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin were pepper sprayed.

“There was one woman who stayed seated on the ground in the street…she was wearing a white dress,” recalled Bardus after police told a crowd of protesters near Palace Theatre to disperse. “And then an officer points his rifle with the wooden pellets directly at the woman in white’s torso. He’s standing at an extremely close range, maybe three, four feet away. And fires directly at her torso.”

Not long after, Bardus treated the woman (pictured above). She was soaked in chemical spray, her dress gone. “My guess is she took her clothes off because they were burning her skin,” he said.

After Bardus spoke, the City’s defense asked Ginther about his interaction with Chief Quinlan following the weekend of May 30.

“I directed the Chief to stop using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse non-violent, non-aggressive crowds and for us to take a different approach in going after a small number of folks who were in downtown areas for different reasons and for different purposes other than peaceful protests,” said Ginther. “[These policies] are subject to change, but as long as I am the Mayor those will be the policies of the Division of Police.”

Ginther spoke of other changes he’s helped facilitate: hiring BakerHostetler to conduct an investigation on potential criminal charges against individual officers during the protests, which resulted in no criminal charges, by the way. And hiring John Glenn College of Public Affairs, civilian review efforts and Andre’s Law, among others. 

He also addressed the City’s response to the protests.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you that mistakes were made. They were made by me, they were made by others at the City based on what happened late May and early June. We’ve changed and reformed a number of things since those protests,” he said.

Plaintiff lead attorney Fred Gittes then cross examined the Mayor challenging him on his past and ongoing commitment to change the Division.

Gittes asked, “You would agree with me that for your changes to be effective, the officers and leadership of the department have to be willing to comply with those changes, isn’t that true?”

“That is correct and it’s my job to hold them accountable,” answered the Mayor.

Gittes again, “Even on top of the changes you’ve made in June, you have been presented with videos of use of force, for example, on Father’s Day [June 21, 2020] where you agreed that it was improper use of force which was after the changes you made?”

“That is correct,” said the Mayor. 

“So that every day goes by where your changes are not actually being put into effect…innocent citizens, or, purview to this case, honest peaceful protesters are put at risk of being injured or worse, just because they are going to protest the police?” asked Gittes.

“That’s an accurate statement, and it underlines and reinforces why we have to move with a sense of urgency we’ve never seen before,” answered the Mayor.

Gittes then said, “You chose to send to (BakerHostetler) 49 complaints to review. However, you know there were hundreds of more complaints to review?”

Gittes continued with questioning regarding the BakerHostetler probe, noting how the Division itself only disciplined one officer – who received counseling, the lowest form of departmental discipline – for their actions during protests.  

“[BakerHostetler reported] a number of officers appeared to be having convenient memory losses about situations that were the subjects of complaints they were present [for]? Have any of those officers been disciplined or charged?”

“Not that I am aware of,” answered the Mayor.

“They haven’t even been provided notice that they are under investigation for dissembling to your own investigators?” asked Gittes.

“Not that I am aware of,” said the Mayor.

“Officers have a duty, it’s a policy, to be fully forthcoming and truthful whenever they are called in regarding an investigation of a police action?”

“Yes sir, that is correct,” said the Mayor.

The trial is scheduled through next week and can be heard by calling 646-749-3112 with the access code 347 407 869.