Lawsuit names Columbus Police Department officials, officers

COLUMBUS, OH - MAY 28: Protesters demonstrated in Downtown Columbus near the statehouse in solidarity with nation wide protests against the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images.

Thirteen named plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday, alleging Columbus police used excessive force, “malicious prosecution” and “gross negligence” during recent months’ protests against police brutality. 

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and names the City of Columbus, Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan, Sergeant David Gitlitz, four additional officers, and two unidentified perpetrators as defendants. 

“Like most other police departments in America, the Columbus Division of Police has failed to deter or punish its officers for using excessive or unnecessary force against African Americans in our city,” attorney Sean Walton — whose firm is representing the plaintiffs — said at a virtual press conference

“This lawsuit is the result of the department using extreme and violent tactics against peaceful protesters who publicly gathered to oppose and challenge this documented history. This much is clear: Policing in America, and policing in Columbus specifically, is broken. It is time for transformative change.” 

The suit alleges that Columbus police officers used riot-inciting tactics to justify using projectile weapons and chemical agents as crowd control. Additionally, it claims that a culture of “abiding hatred of the Blacks Lives Matter movement” allowed officers and supervisors to “exact revenge” and “chill the exercise of association and freedom of expression by protesters.” 

A response to the lawsuit has not yet been filed and the CPD has not yet responded to a request for comment Thursday.

The case lays out a pattern of police brutality, citing that between 2013 and 2019, Columbus police killed 27 African Americans at a rate of 7.3 deaths per 100,000 residents — the highest rate in any Ohio city. The department is charged with inefficient supervision and discipline and failure to provide effective training. 

“This lawsuit exposes the deep-seeded racism that infects law enforcement and the justice system and the institutionalized mindset at the heart of these protests,” Walton said. “This case documents the repeated and needless use of violent tactics, including assault, the indiscriminate use of pepper spray, tear gas, wooden bullets and flash-bang grenades.”

Documents submitted to the District Court included images of injuries sustained by the 13 plaintiffs, videos and images of police spraying protesters with chemical agents, and videos of confrontations with law enforcement dressed in riot gear. 

Many of the named plaintiffs were targeted and sprayed with tear gas or pepper spray, and several suffered debilitating injuries after being pelted with wooden bullets. Two plaintiffs suffered broken bones, and at least two were detained.

As of publication, an answer to the lawsuit had not been filed with the District Court.