Young black man's face smiling

MAY 19, 2017 - COLUMBUS, OHIO: Today, a Franklin County grand jury found that after a presentation by the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office there was not probable cause to indict Columbus Police Officer Bryan Mason in the shooting death of 13-year-old Tyre King. The grand jurors declined to charge Officer Mason with any crimes stemming from the incident. Tyre’s family is saddened and completely dissatisfied with how the entire investigation was handled by the City of Columbus, the Columbus Division of Police and the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. 

From the prejudicial and insensitive press conference held the morning after Tyre’s death by Mayor Andrew Ginther and Chief Kim Jacobs, to the poor investigation and disregard of evidence and known witnesses by the Columbus Division of Police, since September 14, 2016 the City of Columbus has displayed a lack of professionalism and empathy in dealing with Tyre’s death. The deliberate indifference for the lives of its citizens displayed by the City of Columbus and the pain Tyre’s family has dealt with since his death was only exacerbated by the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office’s apparent bias in presenting evidence and witnesses to the grand jury.

On Monday, May 15, 2017, Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and Assistant Prosecutors Sheryl Pritchard and James Lowe met with Tyre’s parents and grandparents along with attorneys Sean Walton and Chanda Brown, as requested by the family. In that meeting, Prosecutor O’Brien explained that the prosecution’s approach in Tyre King’s case was to rely on the evidence it was presented from the Columbus Division of Police. The family found that information to be extremely disheartening. 

Attorney Brown notes, “I asked Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Lowe, and Ms. Pritchard what other evidence they would be using for the grand jury besides what was handed to them by the Columbus Division of Police. I explained that using evidence from the Columbus Division of Police was akin to taking fruit from the ‘poisonous tree.’ They could not produce any evidence that was not obtained by the Columbus Police. I find that troubling, to say the least.” 

There was no attempt to seek an interview with Officer Mason and there was no independent agency used to evaluate the credibility of the evidence and witness statements obtained or to secure additional evidence. After hearing the prosecution’s approach, the family, once again, requested Prosecutor O’Brien to step aside and allow a special prosecutor to properly investigate and present this case to a grand jury. Prosecutor O’Brien explained he did not feel there was a conflict of interest or a need for a third-party investigation. The request for a special prosecutor was flatly declined. 

Malika King, Tyre’s mother, was permitted to testify briefly to the grand jury today. During her testimony, Mr. Lowe asked Ms. King if she had any knowledge of the BB gun Tyre was alleged to have carried that day. When she replied that she had no knowledge of the origins of the toy gun, Mr. Lowe pulled the actual BB gun out and again questioned Ms. King regarding the gun. The combative line of questioning continued throughout her testimony. 

Attorney Walton believes the entire exchange is telling. He adds, “[t]he treatment Ms. King received today is indicative of the prosecutors’ attitude towards this case and police-involved shootings in general. I doubt that same combative tone was attempted with Officer Mason during his testimony. It is an example of the treatment of any non-police witness in a police-involved shooting handled by Ron O’Brien’s office, and shows the obvious conflict of interest in these cases. Ms. King broke down into tears when she recounted the story. Mr. Lowe also grilled Ms. King when she brought up the fact that Mr. Mason has three previous shooting incidents prior to killing Tyre. The prosecutors bring up witness credibility as one reason for their failure to indict police officers, and that will always be an issue when they are attacking witness credibility behind doors while protecting officers through a completely unfair process.”

The Ohio grand jury system is typically used to decide whether probable cause exists to indict someone for a felony crime. The grand jurors do not decide if someone is “guilty” of a crime; rather they merely decide whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with the crime, and then that person has his or her “day in court” in front of a jury at a later date. The threshold to meet probable cause is not the same as the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In many cases, the Prosecutor’s Office tells the grand jury whether they believe they should indict the individual for the crime that is being alleged. They do not follow the same approach when an officer is involved. 

The issue with using the grand jury in an officer involved shooting is that typically the prosecutors and the police officers in a particular jurisdiction have a very close working relationship. This applies whether the prosecutor knows the officer personally or not. The friendly-working relationship is inherent. 

The Ohio Supreme Court recognized this issue and it created the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force to Examine Improvements to the Ohio Grand Jury System. The Task Force was charged “to study our current [grand jury] process and determine ways to better educate the public so they would have a better understanding of how our grand jury system works and ways to instill or ensure public confidence in the process.” The task force was led by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh. 

The Task Force found that “to be effective, prosecuting attorneys must work on an almost daily basis with law enforcement personnel” and went on to note that “county prosecuting attorneys are called upon to investigate the very same police officers they work with on a daily basis involving the reasonableness of the most difficult decision those officers make: whether to use lethal force. Though it is presumed that the prosecuting attorney is in fact objective, impartial, and deliberate in the investigation and charging decisions, PLUF [Police Lethal Use of Force] cases present communities and prosecuting attorneys with highly charged issues that deserve the utmost consideration for objectivity in practice and in perception.”

The family of Tyre King raised clear issues of bias and prejudice with the Columbus Division of Police and with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. From the family’s perspective, the Prosecutor’s office relied on the Columbus Division of Police investigation exclusively and showed a deliberate failure to investigate Officer Bryan Mason’s actions with the same vigor that they attacked witness credibility. 

Enough is enough. The lack of regard for a true investigation into the police-involved shooting of a 13-year-old child, who was according to multiple accounts and physical evidence running away, is numbing. The lack of consideration given to pursuing accountability is troubling, if not an outright violation of Tyre’s constitutional rights. 

Our community is broken. Healing can only come about when we face our inadequacies, acknowledge our challenges, and take substantive steps to move forward. The Columbus Division of Police and the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office have thus far refused to admit that we have problems or accept any ownership for how their actions have contributed to our problems. Passing responsibility is no longer acceptable.

Although the grand jury did not indict Officer Mason, this does not mean that he did not commit a wrong against Tyre and against Tyre’s family. The grand jury was not presented with a clear picture of what occurred the day Tyre was shot; they were only allowed to see the evidence that was “cherry picked” and handed to them from the Columbus Division of Police’s investigation of its own officer. That evidence was then presented to a grand jury without a judge, magistrate, or any representation from the family or community present to observe. 

The process is flawed and no officer will be held accountable until the people tasked with investigating and prosecuting criminals do so with the same approach to all individuals. We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for Tyre and for others like him. 

“If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything... that smacks of discrimination or slander.” - Mary McLeod Bethune



Walton + Brown, LLP. 

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