On Friday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Columbus police preventing them from using force against nonviolent protesters, saying police rallied during protests in the city last year.
Algenon Marble, chief judge of the Southern Ohio County, began his 88-page statement with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “But somewhere I read about freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read about freedom of speech. Somewhere you read about freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that America’s greatness is the right to protest for rights. “
“Unfortunately, some members of the Columbus Police Department did not respect the rights guaranteed by this basic principle of American democracy,”
The decision benefited 26 plaintiffs who sued the city after participating in protests last summer after the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The case alleges that while demonstrating peacefully, “officers engaged in collective punishment by indiscriminately spraying pepper, shedding tears or firing wooden bullets.”
“What more, [officers] sometimes it failed to give audible warnings or enough time to disperse before resorting to a less deadly force, “Marbley wrote.
Columbus officials are now barred from using these methods of “non-lethal force” against nonviolent protesters, which also include blows to the body, grenade launchers, rubber bullets, bats and pressure on nonviolent protesters, the judge ruled.
Nonviolent protesters include those chanting, verbally confronting police and occupying streets.
The court order also requires officers to ensure that “body and car cameras are in good working order and used during any interaction with nonviolent protesters” and that their badge and ID numbers are visible during interaction with protesters.
And employees must recognize that people showing the “press,” “media,” “reporter,” “paramedic,” “medic,” “legal observer,” or similar words or symbols have the right to record protests and help protesters who look wounded, the judge ruled. In addition, anyone can record a protest.
“Numerous witnesses testified about their physical and emotional injuries suffered by CPD officers as they exercised their basic right to assemble and protest,” Marbley wrote.
A male plaintiff protesting peacefully was hit by a shell while police ordered the protesters to disperse, a video shows, according to the order.
“In other words, there was no time for the protesters to react,” Marble said.
The 31-year-old’s knee was broken “in very small pieces” and he could not walk for five months, according to the judge’s order. He still can’t walk more than half a mile without “significant pain.”
Another woman, who was looking for her 21-year-old daughter but did not intend to protest, was twice sprayed with black pepper, although she told officials she simply “wanted to find my baby,” she said, according to the judge’s order.
After being sprayed a second time, she sat on the sidewalk, screaming for help because she couldn’t see.
“She noticed that two police officers were walking towards her with riot control equipment; she hoped that help was finally on the way. Instead, the CPA officers sprayed her again – now, for the third time,” the document said.
Then she says an officer patted her on the knee and said, “That’s what you get if you’re here, blacks, protesting b —-“.
Columbus Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
A report commissioned by the city council and published earlier this week criticized both the police department and city officials, saying Columbus was unprepared for the scale and energy of the protests.
Mayor Andrew Ginter and City Prosecutor Zack Klein on Thursday called for an investigation by the Justice Department into the police following a series of police killings of blacks and other controversies.
“This is not about a specific officer, policy or incident; it’s more about reforming the entire Columbus police force, “Ginter and Klein said in a letter Wednesday. Simply put: We need to change the culture of the Columbus Police Department. “
The request was followed by the fatal shooting on April 20 of 16-year-old Ma’Kia Bryant. Bryant was Black, and the rookie who shot her was white. Police raised a knife near the girl’s body after the shooting. In a video with a body camera, Bryant is seen holding an object and appears to be swinging with another person.
Tensions were already high in Columbus after the noisy shootings of Casey Goodson, Andre Hill and Miles Jackson last year.
Records show that blacks, about 28 percent of Columbus’s population, accounted for about half of all violent incidents between 2015 and 2019, according to the Associated Press.
Amid controversy over the shooting, Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan resigned in January after a brief one-year term. Quinlan was also criticized for his treatment of protesters. More than 14,000 people signed a petition calling for his resignation, saying Quinlan had ordered officers to use tear gas and a mace at protesters.