COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Three people injured during last year’s racial injustice and police brutality protests in Ohio’s capital city described unprovoked harassment and assaults by police that led in some cases to lasting injuries.
Their comments on Friday came a day after the city of Columbus and lawyers for 32 people injured during the protests announced a $5.75 million settlement.
Community activist Tammy Fournier Alsaada said she’d been allowed to walk past a line of police to investigate reports of people being arrested when she heard a series of “bangs and pops.”
“The only thing I can describe it as, is the sounds of war that I witness on TV,” Alsaada said in an online news conference. “As I looked in the air, all I could see was arches of smoke and cannisters raining down on me and the people that were with me.”
Alsaada was temporarily blinded, knocked to the ground, hit by a police horse, then later chased and corralled by police officers, she said.
Rev. Clarressa Thompson said she was pepper sprayed and pushed down despite wearing her clergy robes and carrying a sign that said, “No Violence — God lives.”
Bernadette Calvey said she hadn’t intended to protest, but was walking with her roommate when she approached a scene of protesters, thinking she might join. Out of the blue she was struck in the face by a wooden bullet, leaving a scar still on her chin. An inch or two higher and she could have lost teeth or an eye, she said.
Calvey said the injury was all the more shocking after being raised to respect the police. “It was a very eye-opening experience to see the police violence first hand,” she said.
People suffered permanent scarring, fractured ankles, other broken bones, a severe eye injury, an injury requiring a total knee replacement, and ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder, said attorney Chanda Brown.
“They came to nonviolently protest police violence and were met with police violence,” Brown said Friday.
Payouts will vary based on the extent of protesters’ individual injuries, and will be determined during a series of private meetings with a special master hired to review each case, said John Marshall, the lead attorney in the federal lawsuit brought by the injured protesters.
The settlement also finalizes details of a federal judge’s ruling earlier this year that ordered Columbus police to stop using nonlethal force such as tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on nonviolent protesters who aren’t harming people or destroying property.
Columbus City Council is expected to approve the financial settlement next week.
At issue in the federal lawsuit was the city’s response to protests that began in late May after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who this year was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Police testified 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.
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 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.
A report released last spring said Columbus was unprepared for the size and energy of the protests and that most police officers felt abandoned by city leadership during that time. The report, commissioned by the city council, also found the city had no advance plan for handling such protests, and suffered from a lack of coordination and even regular communication among city leaders once the protests began.