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ATF Agent Files Excessive Force Lawsuit Against Columbus Officers

Lion statue in front of Columbus Division of Police Central Headquarters.
David Holm

A special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has filed an excessive force lawsuit in federal court against the city of Columbus and two police officers. 

The case stems from a July 7 incident in which ATF special agent James Burk alleges two Columbus Police officers tased and handcuffed him while he attempted to carry out official duties. The complaint alleges Burk was trying to confiscate an illegally-held firearm.

The suspect called 911 and the dispatcher sent officers Joseph Fihe and Kevin Winchell. Burk contends this sort of confusion isn’t unheard of, but in a typical situation, the police officers would check his credentials and then either assist in retrieving the firearm or leave the scene.

In this case, despite putting his hands up and telling the officers he was a federal agent with credentials in his pocket, Burk says the two trained their guns on him, roughed him up, tased him and handcuffed him before finally checking his credentials. The officers then forced Burk into the back seat of a police cruiser and detained him for about an hour.

The case also alleges the officers later privately shared body cam footage from the incident with other officers, making light of the incident and mocking Burk. The lawsuit claims this underscores a code of silence within the division that amounts to a de facto policy.

Columbus Police did not respond to a request for comment.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.