Two pictures one of cops and protesters, one of a cop getting ready to punch a guy
Cmdr. Duane Mabry's bike unit on June 21st (left, by photojournalist Paul Becker) and officer Anthony "AJ" Johnson (right).   

The protester civil-rights suit concluded this week as two Columbus police commanding officers took the virtual stand in the City’s defense. One commander insinuated the Division’s use of force against protesters was warranted because lines were crossed when objects were hurled at them or when the Palace Theatre was damaged.

“Most cops understand when individuals are going from peaceful to violent,” testified Commander Duane Mabry to a City defense attorney. “And so we have to move that to a large scale with a crowd. So throwing stuff at us is kind of a clue they are a violent crowd. Destroying property is a clue they are a violent crowd. Fighting amongst each other is a clue they are violent crowd.”

After the Ferguson protests in 2014, Cmdr. Mabry was tasked to give the entire Division a “refresher course” on crowd control and to continue to do so annually.

Cmdr. Mabry repeatedly mentioned what the Division has been trying to ram home with officers when it comes to protests: “We love the First Amendment, and we love life and property…No matter what that group is we want to protect their First Amendment rights and my fellow officers in the Division also believe this.”

But at times Mabry’s testimony sounded militaristic and he implied that it was okay for the Division to police protests this way. Mabry also commands a bike unit, one that was brazenly aggressive at times during protests as witnessed in videos.

He talked to how the Division prepares for protests. Gathering intelligence is imperative, he said. Find out who the protest leaders are and engage. Let them know what will be allowed.

He said this about protesters wearing backpacks: “they are dressed in a manner that they are ready to engage in violence.” He said the Division, seeking more intelligence, was keeping an eye on “Antifa protests in Europe.” They wanted to gauge what those crowds were doing, and it wasn’t the only time this week a commanding officer stated a belief that local protesters were being influenced by national conspirators. 

Plaintiff attorneys said a small number of protesters had warranted an aggressive response – but towards them individually. The Division and many of its officers were instead primed to retaliate with force against Black Lives Matter (BLM) in totality or, as defense attorneys stated, as a collective group. Plaintiff attorneys argued that years of militaristic training and growing animosity towards BLM culminated in the summer of 2020.

In one notable cross examination of an officer who was at Broad and High on the night of May 28, plaintiff attorney John Marshall further exposed the Division’s Jekylle-and-Hyde soul.

On the stand was officer Anthony “AJ” Johnson, who is also a celebrity of sorts, known as the “dancing cop.” His website says he is a man of faith and “recognized as one of the leading community police experts in the world.”

Johnson’s social media videos, many motivational, have been viewed over 100 million times, which should be commended. But in 2019 he punched an agitated father in the face(also pictured above on right).

Johnson testified that on May 28 from 8 pm to 10:30 pm his “skirmish line” experienced “a constant barrage of rocks, bricks and water bottles.”

Marshall then presented other officers’ bodycam videos which told a different story. Videos showing that Johnson’s and other officer’s claims protesters were bombarding them with “hundreds” of objects was greatly exaggerated. 

“Why should we trust Officer Johnson?” demanded Marshall. “Your testimony or Sergeant’s [name inaudible] bodycam, which I can tell you…shows no objects [thrown] until after 10pm.”

The City then presented their third witness, Commander Smith Weir, also their last witness for the defense. 

Weir was one of the top-ranking commanders on downtown streets the night of May 28 and that weekend. He was also present on June 21 when Mabry’s bike unit used mace, even though a few days prior, the Mayor had ordered them not to.

It was Cmdr. Weir’s decision to clear Broad and High the afternoon of June 21st. Weir was confronted by protesters afterwards. 

Plaintiff attorney Fred Gittes asked, “Didn’t you tell a number of protesters in a recorded conversation on your bodycam, that the reason you were doing it was because of a ‘traffic issue,’ because you wanted to make traffic flow?”

“I believed that was one of several considerations we talked about,” answered Weir.

But Weir had testified in an earlier deposition that traffic could have been re-routed within minutes. Weir’s own bodycam video also shows him telling protesters “we had shots fired,” but none had been.

Gittes continued to press Weir about June 21. “Were you not called into a meeting on the 22 with the president of City Council Mr. Harding and the Mayor? And when they asked you about why the things they had seen on the news and social media had happened on the 21, you made a very similar statement about the various kinds of things that had happened [which caused him to try to clear Broad and High, such as shots fired]?”

“That is correct,” answered Weir.

Gittes continued, “You were briefed and told that there were reports of experienced organizers from outside Ohio who were going to come in and try to turn the demonstrations into, and I believe this is your word, ‘chaos’?”

Weir answered, “There were a couple times during the summer where we received word there were people in from Portland or other various cities, and when those incidents occur we try to corroborate that with our intelligence analysts, detective and investigators.”

Gittes asked, “Was anybody arrested from out of state for conspiracy to organize violence at this protest?”

“I don’t believe so, most of the arrests were local,” said Weir.

US Southern District of Ohio Judge Alegon L. Marbley is expected to make a ruling for Alsaada et. Al. vs. City of Columbusin April.