Mayor: Body cam not activated in police killing of Black man

Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio – A police officer who shot and killed a Black man holding a cell phone in Ohio’s capital city early Tuesday did not activate his body camera beforehand, and dash cameras on the officers’ cruiser were also not activated, city officials said.

Because of an automatic “look back” feature on the body camera, the shooting was captured on video but without audio, said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and the city’s department of public safety. As a result, there’s no way to hear what the 47-year-old man or the officer said during the interaction, Ginther said.

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 28, 2020 file photo, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther makes remarks following the announcement by Columbus City Schools superintendent Talisa Dixon that all students would start the 2020-21 school year online during a news conference at Downtown High School in Columbus, Ohio.

Neither the man nor the officer has been publicly identified.

Body camera footage from immediately after the shooting indicated “a delay in rendering of first-aid to the man,” the public safety department said in a news release.

“It is unacceptable to me and the community that officers did not turn on their cameras,” Ginther said during a news conference. Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan echoed the sentiment in a statement a few minutes later.

“The Division invested millions of dollars in these cameras for the express purpose of creating a video and audio record of these kinds of encounters,” Quinlan said. “They provide transparency and accountability, and protect the public, as well as officers, when the facts are in question.”

Officers activated their body cameras immediately after the shooting, Quinlan said.

Police aren’t releasing the victim’s name until his family is notified and until they have a chance to view the video of the shooting, Ginther said.

Police said officers were responding to a neighbor’s non-emergency call at 1:37 a.m. about a man sitting in a vehicle for a long time, repeatedly turning the vehicle on and off. Because it was a non-emergency call, the cruiser dash cam wasn’t activated.

On arrival, officers arrived to find a garage door open and a man inside.

In the body camera video, “the man walked toward the officer with a cell phone in his left hand,” police said. “His right hand was not visible.”

One officer fired and hit the man, who died just under an hour later at a local hospital. There was no weapon recovered at the scene, police said.

The man was visiting someone at the home at the time, police said.

Quinlan relieved the officer of duty, ordered him to turn in his gun and badge and stripped him of police powers pending the outcome of investigations into the shooting. By union contract the officer will still be paid. A message was left with the union representing Columbus officers.

The look-back function, known as “buffering,” is a common technology on body cameras, and is meant to address this exact situation, said Charles Katz, an Arizona State University criminal justice professor.

Although the cameras’ video is perpetually running, they only begin recording once they’re activated, saving whatever they’re set to, such as 30 seconds or a minute, Katz said.

“In a technical sense it’s always recording but it’s not saved until it’s activated, and then it only saves the prior 60 seconds,” Katz said.

The city council issued a statement describing members as “beyond frustrated” at the news.

“We are impatient for answers but insist on a thorough, professional, and complete investigation that ensures justice is done,” the statement said.

The state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the investigation, as is city policy for shootings involving Columbus police. Ginther said he’s also asked the U.S. Attorney for Columbus to review the case for violations of the victim’s federal civil rights.

U.S. Attorney David DeVillers is also investigating the Dec. 4 shooting of Casey Goodson Jr. by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy.