Columbus approves $10M settlement with family of man fatally shot by officer

Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus, Ohio – The Columbus City Council quickly and unanimously approved a $10 million settlement payment Monday to the family of Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man fatally shot by a former Columbus police officer in December.

“Tonight’s ordinance represents the largest settlement in our city’s history,” Council member Shayla Favor said. “We cannot afford to continue in this manner and I hope this is the last time that we will see something like this come before us.”

“No amount of money can make this right,” said Council member Mitch Brown. “Nothing can replace the loss of this father, brother and friend. No settlement can replace his smile, his touch, or the holidays spent with loved ones.”

Attorney Benjamin Crump, left, discusses the police shooting of Andre Hill at a news conference attended by Hill's daughter, Karissa, center, and sister Shawna Barnett, on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

The council approved the settlement only three days after City Attorney Zach Klein announced an agreement had been reached.

Asked how the city attorney’s office could have reached the settlement so quickly, even as a criminal trial is pending for former Columbus police Officer Adam Coy on charges of murder and reckless homicide, Senior Assistant City Attorney William Sperlazza said it was based on facts and law.

“The city felt a strong desire to do right by the family and to engage in honest and serious negotiation, because we feel the pain in our office, in our group, of what happened this night, and it was important to us to give the family some degree of comfort, some ability to perhaps take the next step to move on,” Sperlazza said.

The council voted 6-0, with President Shannon Hardin absent, to approve the payment, which will be taken from the Division of Police budget in one lump sum due immediately upon approval of the settlement by Franklin County Probate Court.

What impact that will have on the police division’s operations remain unclear.

“Funds will be taken from the personnel portion of the Division of Police operating fund,” said city Budget Director Joe Lombardi. “The city must have a balanced budget and if the settlement creates a deficit, the city will have to cover through additional savings in the coming quarters.”

The city Public Safety Department didn’t immediately respond when asked Monday whether police budget cuts would be needed later this year, or if there is enough slack in the budget to absorb the payment. The $10 million represents almost 3% of the approximately $337 million 2021 police budget approved earlier this year.

The city also agreed to rename the gym located inside the Brentnell Community Center to the Andre Hill Gymnasium, a facility frequented by HIll. That name change will take place by the end of the year.

Hill, 47, was exiting a garage at a home on Oberlin Drive in Northwest Columbus around 2 a.m. Dec. 22, when he was shot and killed by Coy.

Coy and Officer Amy Detweiler had responded to a nonemergency call about a vehicle turning its engine on and off.

Coy’s attorney, Mark Collins, said in February that Coy arrived a few minutes before the other officer and interacted with Hill two or three times while he was still in his car, but it remains unclear what was said.

When Hill got out of his vehicle and headed toward the house in the 1000 block of Oberlin Drive, where he was an expected guest, Coy “gave Mr. Hill a verbal command of what to do,” Collins said. “Mr. Hill did not respond.” When the other officer arrived, the two approached the open garage.

As Hill came out of the garage, bodycam video shows he had his left hand up holding a cellphone with its lighted face pointed at the officers, Collins said Coy mistakenly thought Hill had a gun in his right hand. Detweiler told investigators Coy yelled gun before opening fire.

Hill had no gun; he was carrying car keys, police said later.

Neither officer had their body cameras turned on before Coy fatally shot Hill. A “look-back” feature that automatically records the previous 60 seconds captured video, but no audio, of the shooting. Body camera footage from those two and other responding officers showed that more than 10 minutes passed before Hill was given any medical aid. He died about 30 minutes after the shooting.

Coy was fired within a week of the shooting and has since been indicted on charges of murder, felonious assault and reckless homicide. He remains free after posting $1 million bond.

The size of the Hill settlement dwarfs another Columbus police settlement made just in February, $1,025,000 to the family of Donna Castleberry, a woman killed by an undercover Columbus police officer in 2018. At the time, the Castleberry settlement was considered one of the largest in city history, officials said.