A Columbus organization is calling for greater transparency during investigations of officer-involved shootings.
Mike Foley reports.
The People’s Justice Project released a report revealing what it calls overly aggressive policing and prosecution strategies in Franklin County toward black and Latino men and women. But the group’s most repeated request involves the creation of a special prosecutor and more transparent, independent investigations into police shootings. It stems from the case of Henry Green, a 23-year-old killed during a shootout with plainclothes officers in June. Family attorney Sean Walton.
“Things have to change. In 2016 nationally, prosecutors and city government leaders are stepping up and saying in these unique situations that we can take special precaution to ensure public trust and confidence. So our question today is - why can’t Henry Green start that process of rebuilding trust for all of us?”
The case remains under investigation. Because prosecutors work so closely with police on other cases, critics say there’s an inherent conflict of interest when police are on the other end of the investigation and therefore an independent person or panel should handle police-involved shootings. A task force studying ways to improve Ohio’s grand jury system earlier this summer recommended that county prosecutors be stripped of their power to investigate, and potentially prosecute, fatal use of force by police. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien could not be reached for comment in time for this story, but after the task force recommendations came out, O’Brien told the Dispatch he disagreed with the notion that his office might not make the right calls on fatal shootings by police. He called the current process fair and independent because every such case has been reviewed by a grand jury with survivors and family attorneys invited to attend. Green’s mother attended the People’s Justice Project press conference but did not speak. But organizer Tammy Alsaada had plenty to say for her.
“There’s been no attempt made to even say I’m sorry for your loss. And all of us understand the loss or the thought of a loss of your child. Then I think that’s a special circumstance that our city leadership should at least be willing to sit down with some of these mothers, and what he said I’m sure to Sean is that the investigation is ongoing and we can’t release information. But at least to listen to the concerns of these parents because they’ve done nothing wrong but ask for accountability for the lives of their sons.”
Alsaada says the issue is bigger than politics, it’s about lives. The group invited the three candidates in the race for Franklin County Prosecutor to its forum September 14. Democrat Zack Klein and the Green Party’s Bob Fitrakis agreed to attend. The Republican O’Brien, who’s served in the job since 1996, has yet to confirm his involvement with organizers of the event.