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Columbus Police 'Pauses' Vice Unit To Conduct Internal Review

Esther Honig

Columbus Police announced Thursday that it will "pause" all but the most important Vice Unit cases while it conducts an internal review.

The announcement follows two high-profile incidents involving the Vice Unit: the arrest of porn star Stormy Daniels at a Columbus strip club, and an undercover officer's fatal shooting of a woman being taken into custody for an outstanding warrant related to prostitution charges.

Deputy Chief Tim Becker said at a Thursday press conference that a "comprehensive review" of Vice Unit procedures and policies has been in the works for a while. But those high-profile cases, both of which spurred complaints and investigations into individual officers, brought more urgency to the matter.

"During this review, only the most critical cases will be worked," Becker said. "The pause is necessary not only for the division to redesign a path into the future, but to regain the trust of the community."

On August 23, undercover officer Andrew Mitchell shot Donna Dalton multiple times in the back of an unmarked police car in Franklinton. Police say Dalton was being taken into custody for a warrant related to prostitution charges when she reportedly stabbed Mitchell in the hand. The incident spurred protestsand vigils from community activists, who have long called for the end of plainclothes officers.

Less than a week before the shooting, Mitchell became the subject of a separate criminal investigationafter a citizen accused him of misconduct. Becker, who was acting Chief of Police at the time, confirmed receiving the complaint but said he didn't relieve Mitchell of duty due to lack of credible evidence.

"We have previously confirmed that the activities of a few of our Vice section members are currently under criminal or administrative investigation," Becker said. "These investigations are complicated and they take time, but they're all on the front-burner."

As with all police-involved shootings, Mitchell's shooting of Dalton will be presented to a Franklin County grand jury to consider possible charges. Mitchell is currently on administrative leave and recovering from his injury.

Jacobs also said the department is reviewing a complaint about a July incident involving Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Undercover officers arrested Clifford during her performance at Sirens, a Cleveland Ave. strip club, along with two other workers. 

Charges were droppedagainst all three. City Attorney Zach Klein advised Columbus Police to no longer enforce Ohio's "Community Defense Act," which prohibits touching between patrons and nude or semi-nude performers.

Clifford is suing President Trump after claiming they had sex before he became president. Columbus Police said they are investigating the undercover officers for possible political motivations.

"We do not tolerate bad cops here," said Chief Kim Jacobs on Thursday. "And if we've got the evidence to prove that they are, then I think our record shows that we will address that bad behavior."

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.