COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Almost 20 years after the government sued Ohio’s largest city alleging police routinely violated residents’ civil rights, Columbus is facing more than two dozen complaints raising similar concerns, records show.
Documents also indicate that the city has paid more than $4 million to individuals who alleged civil rights violations over the past decade.
Recent police shootings have alarmed local clergy and activists, who want the city to train more officers on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations with people having mental health crises. They also want more police training for dealing with people with mental illness, and to have officers trained to recognize racial bias.
“We’re just asking for justice,” said Pastor Jason Ridley of the Hilltop Community Worship Center. “We’re just asking for the simple reality that I can leave my house and not fear.”
That includes police acknowledging that sometimes they make mistakes, said Ridley, who is black.
Democratic Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther acknowledged Wednesday that some residents’ “faith is shaken” in the police department. Addressing that problem is critical at a time of soaring homicides, half of which are going unsolved, he said.
“It’s our collective responsibility to renew, restore and enhance our community’s faith in our division,” Ginther said.
With 111 killings to date, Columbus could be on track to exceed its previous record of 139.
Columbus has largely been spared the unrest seen elsewhere following police shootings of blacks, but the department is under increased scrutiny following a series of fatal encounters.
Those include last year’s shooting of 13-year-old Tyre King as officers responded to reports of an armed robbery. Police said the boy pulled what looked like a real gun, but was later determined to be a BB gun from his waistband during a confrontation with officers.
Among the 26 currently pending lawsuits reviewed by The Associated Press:
— The estate of 23-year-old Henry Green, who was fatally shot by two police officers who said he opened fire on them last year, alleges wrongful death, civil rights violations, constitutional violations and racial discrimination. Green was black. The officers are white.
— A woman claims that Columbus police shot and mortally wounded her brother, Kareem Ali Nadir Jones, who was black, without justification and then conspired to provide misleading information about the July 7 confrontation. Columbus police say two officers saw the 30-year-old Jones walking between cars and behaving erratically.
— Attorneys for Timothy Davis say officers at the scene of his Sept. 1 arrest inside a convenience store shielded fellow officers attacking Davis to keep witnesses from seeing him being punched and kicked, and tried to cover up what happened by falsely claiming Davis put them in harm. Davis is black; the lawsuit doesn’t indicate the race of the officers, but says the department doesn’t properly investigate police use of force against blacks.
After prodding from Ridley and other pastors, Columbus agreed last week to meet a goal of training one out of every two current officers in how to deal with people having mental health crises by 2020, according to an Oct. 24 letter from Ginther. All recruits already receive such training, called Crisis Intervention Training.
The city also is submitting its training plans for dealing with mentally ill individuals to an international police association for review, the letter said.
A federal judge in 2002 dismissed a Justice Department’s 1999 lawsuit against Columbus after the city made changes on the use of police force and handling of complaints against officers.
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