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Columbus Police Union Demands Removal Of Defense Lawyer From Working Group

Quentin Smith was found guilty of aggravated murder in the death of Westerville Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli.
Fred Squillante
Pool/Columbus Dispatch
Attorney Frederick Benton, right, sits next to Quentin Smith, who was was found guilty of murdering two Westerville Police officers.

The Columbus police union on Thursday demanded the immediate removal of an attorney from the recently-formed Civilian Review Board working group, while responding to critical comments made by Mayor Andrew Ginther.

"Mayor Ginther has lost all credibility," said Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital Lodge 9. "Mayor Ginther has failed as a leader, and Mayor Ginther has failed as a manager."

On Wednesday, Ginther named 16 people to the group tasked with helping form an independent board to investigate police misconduct and use-of-force cases. Among the names was criminal justice attorney Frederick Benton, who last year defended the man convicted of killing two Westerville Police officers.

As one of Quentin Smith's two main lawyers, Benton argued that Smith didn't intend to kill officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who were fatally shot when they arrived at Smith's house following a 911 hang-up call. While a jury spared him the death penalty, a Franklin County judge sentenced Smith to two lifetimes in the prison without the possibility of parole, plus 26.5 years.

Simpson, a 22-year veteran of the Columbus Division of Police, blasted Ginther for appointing Benton to the city's working group, but failing to include any active members of law enforcement.

"The Lodge is demanding that Mayor Ginther apologize and immediately remove the attorney who represented the murderer of Officers Morelli and Joering from his unilaterally-created committee," Simpson said at a press conference Thursday.

Diane Menashe, Smith's other lawyer, was named last month by city leaders to the Columbus Police Chief's new advisory panel.

In a statement, Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin said he supports the appointment of both Menashe and Benton as "tested criminal justice experts."

"They were not appointed to appease the FOP, but to advance reforms of a deeply flawed system," Hardin said. "American criminal justice is built on a central idea that all accused deserve legal representation before impartial courts. We support these attorneys because they worked on the toughest capital cases and will not be intimidated."

While Ginther has defended Columbus Police against some criticism from both protesters and other city leaders, he's challenged the union to help with reform efforts. For example, while the creation of a Civilian Review Board is prohibited by the current union contract, Ginther says it will be seated by the end of the year with or without their participation.

Ginther said the FOP should stop spending its time and money to defend fired and disciplined officers, adding that "they're not calling the shots anymore about how we police."

"The FOP has zero credibility in this community," Ginther declared.

Simpson said the FOP remains committed to change, and have already met with elected leaders around the area.

"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 for him at this moment," Simpson said.

In 2017, the FOP unanimously approved a vote of "no confidence"in Ginther, Public Safety Director Ned Pettus, and then-City Council president Zach Klein.

That vote came in reaction to Ginther's comments about Zachary Rosen, who was fired after kicking a restrained subject in the head. After the FOP intervened and forced arbitration, the department later later reinstated Rosen.

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.