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Columbus civilian review board recommends member's ouster

Columbus Civilian Police Review Board member Gambit Aragon speaks at a special meeting on Dec. 19, 2022, in which board members voted to recommend his removal.
Columbus Civilian Police Review Board member Gambit Aragon speaks at a special meeting on Dec. 19, 2022, in which board members voted to recommend his removal.

In an 8-1 vote Monday night, the Columbus Civilian Police Review Board recommended the removal of one of its members.

The decision comes in response to anti-police social media posts made by board member Gambit Aragon in the wake of a canceled holiday story time event at a Clintonville church featuring drag queens.

The event wound up being canceled after groups that included the Proud Boys protested the event. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Proud Boys as a hate group.

Aragon had tweeted out photos of Columbus police officers standing with protesters, using the hashtag "f***12," a phrase commonly used in police protests. In a Facebook post, Aragon wrote that CPD, city council, and the mayor's office "don't give a f*** about us."

Monday night, board chair Janet Jackson said Aragon in the days that followed raised the question of whether the Columbus Office of the Inspector General should look at police conduct during the protest, without disclosing his personal involvement.

Aragon was given the chance to address the board at Monday's special meeting. In serving on the board, Aragon said, he sought to be a "living testament to the abuse my community has suffered at the hands of police," that being the LGBTQ community.

He also said he was confident that the civilian police review board would fail to make a difference.

"Instead of doing real work for the citizens of the city, we were buried in training after training. It wasn't lost on me that most of the training was 'copaganda' presented to many of the boards that were still on the fence in hopes of sympathy," he said.

Several of the board's members said while each of them have biases relating to their unique life experiences, they are expected to check those biases at the door while serving on the board.

Board member Richard Nathan said objectivity is essential in terms of maintaining the board's credibility with the community.

"The community expects that these cases are going to be handled in an unbiased way, and your public statements have have raised an enormous question mark for me that whether you could be unbiased," Nathan said.

Only one board member, Kyle Strickland, voted against the recommendation to remove Aragon, saying it sets a dangerous precedent.

"If you if you have biases that you can't check, then you shouldn't be serving on the board," Strickland said. "But if you have biases and say that 'I understand my biases, I understand my perspectives, and I acknowledge those and I will have a set of guardrails in place to ensure that those don't interfere with my decisions,' that's a different story."

Strickland noted the board does not have a set social media policy for its members.

The board's action is only a recommendation to the mayor's office. Mayor Andrew Ginther has called on Aragon to resign.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.