A federal jury has rejected allegations that police in Ohio’s capital city used excessive force when they fatally shot a man in 2016 during an undercover operation, an episode that led to heightened criticism of actions by Columbus police.
The city has said that 23-year-old Henry Green, who was Black, ignored commands to drop his gun by officers Zachary Rosen and Jason Bare, who are white. Court documents and depositions say Green shot at the undercover officers, who then returned fire. Green’s family has argued Green fired after police shot at him.
Columbus, the state’s largest city, has experienced multiple protests in recent years over the killing of Black men and children, including last year’s fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Kiah Bryant. A grand jury declined to indict the white officer who shot Bryant as she swung a knife at a young woman. The officer said he feared for the woman’s life.
A grand jury had also declined to indict officers Rosen and Bare in Green’s killing, and an internal Columbus police investigation cleared them.
A federal judge dismissed the excessive force lawsuit brought by Green’s family in September 2019, finding it was reasonable to use deadly force under the circumstances. But a federal appeals court reinstated it a year later, determining that a jury could “reasonably conclude” there wasn’t justification for the officers to use force in this context.
The first trial ended in a mistrial in November 2021. On Monday, a unanimous jury sided with the city after a short deliberation, acquitting Rosen and Bare of excessive force and assault and battery allegations.
On Tuesday, City Attorney Zachary Klein said his office respects the decision, while noting, “The City Attorney’s Office takes seriously all use of force cases, especially those that result in a tragic loss of life.”
Klein has pushed for change in the department and, along with city Mayor Andrew Ginther, successfully requested a Justice Department review of the agency’s practices. That review is ongoing.
Green’s family is disappointed by the decision, which their attorney Sean Walton said doesn’t reflect the evidence presented at trial.
“This civil trial was the first that the city has had to defend for a police shooting in 15 years and that in itself provides hope and optimism that accountability is on the horizon,” he said. “However, the people of this city should not have to fight their own leaders who continue to use qualified immunity as a sword to defend bad officers.”
The jury made the right decision, said Jeff Simpson, president of the police union representing Columbus officers.
“The facts and the evidence of this case are crystal clear and beyond reproach,” Simpson said, calling Green’s actions “a violent attack.”
Changes to the department in recent years including the creation of a first-ever civilian review board, increased use of body-worn cameras, a pilot program to resolve 911 calls involving mental health and addiction issues with counselors instead of officers, and the hiring of Elaine Bryant, the city’s first Black woman chief.
In December, the city agreed to pay $5.75 million to people injured during the 2020 racial injustice and police brutality protests.
Monday’s verdict was the second time in recent months that jurors sided with police over excessive force violations. In December, a jury rejected civil rights violations alleged by Timothy Davis, who had accused Columbus officers in Ohio’s capital city of using improper force when they arrested him in 2017.
In November, a murder trial is scheduled for a white Columbus officer who shot and killed Andre Hill, who was Black, in December 2020 as Hill emerged from a garage holding a cell phone. The officer, Adam Coy, has pleaded not guilty.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Andrew Welsh-Huggins