Police in Ohio’s capital city have been ordered to stop using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against nonviolent protesters after a federal judge ruled officers ran ‘amok’ last year during BLM protests.
The protests convulsed the Midwestern city last summer as some descended into rioting – with businesses vandalized and looted and violence to such a degree that the city’s mayor called a curfew that lasted for six nights.
The governor also called in the National Guard to deal with the violence, which included rioters throwing things at the police.
Still, Judge Algenon Marbley issued an 88-page opinion on Friday describing the actions of Columbus police during last summer’s protests as ‘the sad tale of officers, clothed with the awesome power of the state, run amok’.
Columbus Police have been in the spotlight of late after an officer shot dead 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant last month after body cam footage showed her attempting to stab two woman moments earlier.
Marbley’s ruling was in response to a federal lawsuit filed by 26 protesters who argued they were targeted by police without provocation starting last May as they protested the police killing of George Floyd.
Judge Algenon Marbley issued an 88-page opinion on Friday saying Columbus Police ‘ran amok’ during last year’s BLM protests
Many of the protests were peaceful, according to city and state officials. And Deputy Columbus Police Chief Jennifer Knight even marched with protesters in a rally last June
In his preliminary injunction, Marbley ruled in favor of the protesters, saying that most participants were peacefully protesting or observing when they fell victim to such nonlethal responses by officers.
‘Many of these instances of force were without provocation or applied at random and indiscriminately,’ Marbley wrote.
‘There is a mountain of evidence that some protestors were confronted with less-lethal munitions while trying to follow police orders to leave the demonstrations.’
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said at the time that during the summer protests, rioters had tried to break and vandalize city property, set fire to buildings and vehicles and broke into businesses.
‘Our city has had enough,’ he said, according to Fox 8.
Judge Algenon Marbley has ruled in favor of protesters who filed a federal lawsuit against the city. In his preliminary injunction, he ordered police to stop using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against nonviolent protesters
Now, though, when responding to protests or riots in the future, police in Columbus have now been ordered to stop using some of their previous tactics, including rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.
The judge noted that his order applied only to nonviolent protesters who are not harming people or destroying property, so that still presumably allows police some leeway if crowds become out of control.
Marbley also said police can not inflict pain to punish or deter protesters and must ensure body-worn and cruiser cameras are working and badge numbers are visible even when officers are wearing riot gear.
He also said individuals clearly identifying themselves as reporters, medics or legal observers must be allowed to record protests and help injured people.
At issue in the federal lawsuit was the city’s response to protests that began in late May after the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was last month convicted of killing the black man.
Columbus protests lasted multiple days downtown, near Ohio State University and across other parts of the city.
The first night, protesters smashed windows at the Ohio Statehouse and at businesses throughout downtown.
In a separate episode, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty was hit by pepper spray as scuffles broke out near the end of a May demonstration.
The lawsuit, which was filed in July on behalf of more than two dozen protesters, sought monetary damages for injuries sustained in clashes with police after Floyd’s death.
A multi-day hearing was held before Marbley earlier this year.
The lawsuit described peaceful demonstrators and bystanders being beaten, fired on with wooden and rubber bullets, and unlawfully arrested during protests in late May and June.
Columbus protests lasted multiple days downtown, near Ohio State University and across other parts of the city. The first night, protesters smashed windows at the Ohio Statehouse and at businesses throughout downtown
The lawsuit, which was filed in July on behalf of more than two dozen protesters, sought monetary damages for injuries sustained in clashes with police after Floyd’s death
Protesters can be seen giving police officers the finger as they patrolled an area in Columbus last June; a judge said the police response needed to be more restrained in the future when dealing with non-violent protesters
Lead plaintiff Tammy Fournier Alsaada, a community activist, was pepper-sprayed without provocation after receiving permission to walk through a line of police to discuss the arrests of some protesters, the lawsuit said.
Another plaintiff, Terry Hubby Jr., testified that he joined a May 29 protest and was struck by a nonlethal police projectile that shattered his knee, requiring surgery and the insertion of 20 pins and a plate.
Video of the incident revealed that officers fired the projectiles while a police loud system issued an order to disperse.
Columbus Police have been in the spotlight of late after a rookie officer shot dead 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant (above) last month after body cam footage showed her attempting to stab two woman moments earlier
‘In other words, there was no time for protesters to react,’ Marbley said.
Police also testified before Marbley about facing chaotic and threatening situations.
‘People were walking up to us with bottles and opening them and throwing, like, unknown liquids on us, yelling in our face,’ Officer Anthony Johnson said, according to court documents.
Marbley, however, found the evidence showed that police overreacted.
‘The video and testimonial evidence presented by Plaintiffs suggests that police have used physical violence, tear gas, and pepper spray against peaceful protestors without provocation, and city officials have done nothing or not enough to condemn and correct these actions,’ the judge said.
The city had opposed the lawsuit, arguing that the police department has since changed its policies to implement most of what the protesters who sued had demanded.
Elected officials have been continuously critical of the 1,900-officer police department.
Mayor Andrew Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein – both Democrats – last week invited the Justice Department to review the police department for ‘deficiencies and racial disparities’ in recruitment, hiring and use of force, among other categories.
‘We need to change the culture of the Columbus Division of Police,’ the letter said, echoing language Ginther has used for years.
More recently, the mayor has said the division’s next police chief must be a ‘change agent’ who will come from outside the department.
‘Last summer, the city was faced with extraordinary circumstances not seen in more than two decades,’ Ginther said in a Friday statement.
‘Today’s ruling tells us we fell short in our response.’
In January, interim Columbus Chief Thomas Quinlan was forced out after Ginther said he’d lost confidence in the chief’s ability to make needed changes.
Subsequent protests that took place without confrontation illustrate the city’s commitment to the types of changes the judge ordered, he said.
Klein issued a statement saying Marbley’s order underscores the need for the federal review and reflects the city’s belief that, ‘non-violent, peaceful protesters must be respected, and unnecessary and excessive force must not be used against them’.