Columbus, OH – Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced Wednesday that the city had hired a law firm that made generous campaign contributions to himself and Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin to investigate complaints about police officers’ use-of-force against protesters during recent riots in the state capital.
Ginther told reporters at a press conference on July 1 that he had hired outsiders to handle the investigation of the officers because it was “important for the public to have trust and confidence that these…are going to be independent investigations,” WSYX reported.
“It’s critically important in all times, but particularly in times like these, that you follow through and act on what you’ve committed to do for reform,” the mayor said.
“I have seen images and videos over the last several weeks that disturb me – including the pepper-spraying of non-violent activists, media and elected officials,” Ginther told reporters. “Our Department of Public Safety have been reviewing hundreds of complaints, and it is now time to send them for independent evaluation.”
He said the city of Columbus had hired Cleveland-based law firm BakerHostetler and an unnamed retired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official to review use-of-force complaints against police during the protests, WSYX reported.
Protests against the coronavirus pandemic lockdown changed into violent riots in the wake of the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
Videos showed violent protesters smashed windows on businesses downtown and broke into the Ohio State House before they were pushed back by Columbus police officers just days after Floyd was killed.
Campaign finance records showed that BakerHostetler’s political action committee (PAC) made multiple campaign contributions to the “Friends for Ginther” and “Friends of Shannon Hardin” committees, the most recent having been made in August of 2019.The mayor’s office brushed off concerns about conflict of interest.
“Columbus has had a contract with BakerHostetler for many years, representing the city during labor negotiations,” Ginther’s Director of Media Relations Robin Davis told The Police Tribune in an email.
“They are intimately familiar with our contracts including the one with the FOP which made them a logical choice to work through the administrative investigations in complaints from the public regarding Columbus Division of Police,” Davis explained.
A spokesman for the Columbus City Council told The Police Tribune the exact same thing.
Ginther said BakerHostetler would investigate 40 incidents that may have violated police department policy and could result in discipline for the officers involved, WSYX reported.
The retired FBI official will review 16 incidents to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against those officers.
The mayor said some of the cases would overlap, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
“There’s too much local familiarity on a local law enforcement level,” Ginther said. “This FBI agent has the experience, the background and the separation for the city to have confidence that the truth will be sought.”
The city’s contract with Baker Hostetler runs from June 24 to Dec. 31 and maxes out at $50,000, according to WSYX.
NEW: Just got copy of contract b/t @ColumbusGov & @BakerHostetler. It states the firm will investigate alleged excessive use of force complaints against @ColumbusPolice officers during recent #protests. Contract runs from June 24 to Dec 31, 2020 for services under $50,000.
— Tara Morgan (@tarawsyx6) July 2, 2020
The mayor also announced the creation of a working group tasked with forming a civilian review board to oversee the Columbus Division of Police before the end of the year.
The working group “will study best practices used in other cities and bring back the civilian review board that works best for Columbus,” according to Ginther.
He said he wanted the civilian review board to have the “strongest subpoena power and strongest power under the law in order to have the oversight and accountability we need,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.
Ginther announced he had appointed 16 people to the working group, including defense attorney Fred Benton who recently represented the murderer who fatally shot Westerville Police Officers Tony Morelli and Eric Joering, WCMH reported.
He did not include any members of the Columbus police or their union on his list despite the fact he met with police union officials a week earlier, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
The mayor explained the notable absence of law enforcement on the panel as the “FOP has zero credibility in this community.”
“The FOP is not running this process,” he explained. “They aren’t calling the shots anymore about how we police and where we’re headed as a community.”
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Capital City Lodge #9 Executive Vice President Jeff Simpson criticized Ginther at his own press conference on Thursday, WCMH reported.
“Mayor Ginther has lost all credibility. Mayor Ginther has failed as a leader, and Mayor Ginther has failed as a manager,” Simpson said. “Apparently Mayor Ginther believes that bullying the FOP and blaming police officers, who literally put their lives on the line each and every day, is an effective political strategy.”
The union boss demanded an apology from Ginther for his selection of the cop killer’s criminal defense attorney for the working group, WCMH reported.
But thus far the mayor has refused to back down and accused the police union of being racist.
“This isn’t the first time the FOP has attacked a black man working to advance police reform, oversight and accountability,” Ginther told WCMH in an email. “Fred Benton is one of the most respected members of our central Ohio legal community and will be a great addition to the civilian review board workgroup.”
The Police Tribune reached out to BakerHostetler and the FOP but hadn’t received comments by publication time.