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Protesters Sue Columbus Police Officers For Excessive Force

Columbus Police confront protesters at a demonstration downtown on June 2, 2020.
Paige Pfleger
Columbus Police confront protesters at a demonstration downtown on June 2, 2020.

A group of protesters have filed a federal lawsuitagainst Columbus Police for injuries they sustained in late May and early June, alleging that officers used excessive force and violated their constitutional rights.

Longtime activist Tammy Fournier Alsaada is the lead plaintiff in the case, which law firm Walton + Brown is helping bring forth. The suit names Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan, Sergeant David Gitlitz, and officers Shawn Dye, Thomas Hammel, Holly Kanode, Kenneth Kirby as defendants.

The lawsuit contends CPD officers beat peaceful protesters and bystanders, fired wooden and rubber bullets at vulnerable areas of their bodies, and unlawfully arrested them.

"Defendants Sergeant and Officers purposefully used excessive force to punish one or more Plaintiffs and other demonstrators, to deter them from continuing to protest and others from joining a protest with which they disagreed, and to reclaim the streets," the lawsuit reads. "Defendants Sergeant and Officers maliciously prosecuted one or more Plaintiffs to punish them and deter other demonstrators from continuing to protest."

Alsaada cried while talking about her experience protesting downtown.

“Before I could get from the Statehouse to the corner of Broad and High Street, all I remember seeing is what appeared to be bombs rained from the sky,” Alsaada said. “I don’t know if that was intentional. I’m still learning.”

Alsaada now sits on Quinlan's chief advisory panel, which the city created to help bolster police-community relations and consult on policy conerns.

“I’ve sat in rooms begging for someone to pay attention. And it doesn’t matter to me what happens in this lawsuit,” Alsaada said. “What matters is that we a city put people in place who care enough not to start a war against citizens practicing their First Amendment rights.”

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Rebecca Lamey, said she was shot with wooden bullets as she knelt on the ground with her hands up. The impact knocked her cellphone out of her hand.

“I felt scared. I felt violated and still do," Lamey said. "I feel like I didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to me, and neither did the people that were near me."

The 81-page lawsuit outlines contentions from more than a dozen plaintiffs that officers abused their authority, and includes photos and videos of various police-citizen interactions. The lawsuit says officers violated citizens' First and 14th Amendment rights, practiced gross negligence and maliciously prosecuted people.

The lawsuit also draws comparisons to an anti-lockdown rally the month before, where police declined to confront activists protesting Gov. Mike DeWine. In that case, the lawsuit alleges police "exercised restraint when demonstrators, some of whom openly carried weapons and engaged in hate speech while violating statewide social-distancing and mask mandates, protested the COVID-19 lockdown at and around the Statehouse."

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and asks for police reforms that promote increased transparency and accountability to citizens.

Last week, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced that the city was referring dozens of Columbus Police incidents, stemming from the recent protests, to third parties to review for possible administrative or criminal charges.

The law firm BakerHostetler is considering 40 complaints to determine if officers should be departmentally charged for violating internal policy, while a retired FBI agent is reviewing 16 complaints for possible criminal charges.

The Columbus Divison of Police said it not comment on pending litigation.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.