Unarmed Black man fatally shot by Columbus police officer

Bethany Bruner
 
| The Columbus Dispatch

A furious Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said Tuesday he instructed Police Chief Thomas Quinlan to suspend and take the badge and gun of the officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man early Tuesday while responding to a noise complaint.

“The community is exhausted,” he said.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the investigation, as is city policy for shootings involving Columbus police officers. 

Sgt. James Fuqua said the shooting occurred after officers were dispatched at 1:37 a.m. Tuesday on a non-emergency call to the 1000 block of Oberlin Drive on the city’s Northwest Side for a disturbance involving a vehicle running on and off for an extended time.  Fuqua said the noise complaint came from a neighbor.

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At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Ginther and city Department of Public Safety officials revealed more about what they know:

Police were initially called by a neighbor who said they saw a person sitting inside a SUV that had been turned on and off multiple times over a period of time. When officers arrived on the scene, they found a home’s garage door open and a man inside. 

The man, who was visiting someone at the home, walked toward officers with a cellphone in his left hand and his right hand not visible, according to a review of one of the responding officer’s body-worn camera footage provided by city officials.

One officer fired his weapon, striking the 47-year-old Black man, who later died at 2:25 a.m. at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

The man’s name had not yet been released as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, pending official notification of his family. 

A weapon was not recovered at the scene. 

“The body-worn camera footage also documents a delay in rendering of first-aid to the man,” according to a city Department of Public Safety release.   

Columbus police officers involved in shootings are not identified for at least 24 hours after the shooting, per Division of Police policy. 

The officer involved is currently on administrative leave, as is division policy, while the investigation continues. He will not return to work until he has been cleared by an independent psychologist, the release states.

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Ginther said Tuesday afternoon he took the additional step of asking Quinlan to relieve the officer of duty — the equivalent of suspension — during the investigation based on what he said he saw on the footage.

“Neither officer at the scene activated their body-worn cameras until immediately after the shooting. Because of a 60-second ‘look back’ function of the cameras, the shooting itself was captured on video,” the city release states. “However, the function does not record audio during that 60-second ‘look-back’ window, so there is no audio of the communications (between the victim and the officers) immediately preceding or during the actual shooting.”

Ginther said the fact that neither responding officer turned on their body camera until after the shooting took place “disturbed him greatly.” 

“It is unacceptable to me and the community that officers did not turn on their cameras,” he said, citing the $5 million investment the city made in purchasing the cameras. “If you won’t turn on your body camera, you cannot work in our city.” 

The body camera footage that does exist is expected to be released publicly sometime Wednesday.

Ginther said state Attorney General Dave Yost has asked him to delay the release of the body camera footage until his Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents can interview one of the officers at the scene at the time of the shooting. That interview is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

Sometime after that, the family of the man who was shot will view it and then it will be released to the public, Ginther said during the press conference.

Because the initial call was a non-emergency call, police did not have lights and sirens on when they responded to the scene and the dash camera in the police cruiser “was not activated for any part of this run,” the release states. 

Columbus police Chief Thomas Quinlan, who did not attend the press conference, said in the statement, “This is a tragedy on many levels. Most importantly a life has been lost. That must be our focus going forward.”

Quinlan said in the statement that he is “troubled by the preliminary facts” about the shooting. 

Ginther did not respond when asked why Quinlan was not at Tuesday’s briefing.

“The Division invested millions of dollars in these cameras for the express purpose of creating a video and audio record of these kinds of encounters,” Quinlan said in the release. “They provide transparency and accountability, and protect the public, as well as officers, when the facts are in question.”

The officer involved in the shooting is currently on administrative leave, as is division policy, while the investigation continues. He will not return to work until he has been cleared by an independent psychologist, the city release states.

Ginther said he has also asked United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, David DeVillers, to review the case to determine if the man’s civil rights were violated. 

Any further investigative evidence or information is in the hands of BCI. Under a memorandum of understanding reached this summer, BCI will conduct an outside, independent investigation of all officer-involved shootings involving deadly force by Columbus police officers. And in the wake of the Casey Goodson Jr., shooting, any other shooting involving a law-enforcement officer within the city by a law-enforcement officer will also be investigated by BCI.  

“We know that BCI will conduct a thorough, independent investigation. We promise that we will provide as much transparency as possible on our part, both with investigators and the public,” Quinlan said in the statement. “Our community deserves the facts. If evidence determines that laws or policies were violated, officers will be held accountable.”

A handful of protesters appeared at the press conference, demanding answers and at times shouting over the media during the question-and-answer part of the event. 

bbruner@dispatch.com

@bethany_bruner

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