Police took over the intersection of Broad and High streets in downtown Columbus, the location for several flash points during protests over the George Floyd murder in 2020, with police and protesters jockeying for control over the intersection. Photo by Tyler Buchanan, OCJ.
A measure in the Ohio Senate would put the Attorney General’s office in charge of investigating officer involved shootings. The idea, sponsored by Cleveland Democratic Sen. Sandra Williams, has been filed in every session going back to 2016, but has yet to gain traction.
It was the very first recommendation offered by an Ohio Supreme Court task force that year, but their report came out a few months after Sen. Williams filed her first bill. She held up that recommendation in bill’s first hearing this week.
“There are cases that come before judges in which they know they can be objective fair and deliberative in reaching a decision from which they must nonetheless disqualify themselves due to the appearance that they may not,” Williams quoted from the report. “Under this legislation by giving authority to the Attorney General’s Office and or special prosecutor they assign, the public understands that the relationships are much less likely to be as close as they are with local law enforcement officers.”
Despite stalling in previous assemblies, events outside the Statehouse continue apace. Already, the Attorney General steps in regularly to investigate officer involved shootings. In June of 2020 for instance, the city of Columbus signed an agreement with the AG’s office assigning investigations of all police involved shootings “resulting in serious injury or death” to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Dave Yost announced the indictment of Columbus police officer Adam Coy, who shot and killed Andre Hill last December. Just this week, Yost announced a grand jury declined to bring charges in a different case out of East Cleveland that his office investigated. Yost’s office has also set up a website to act as a clearinghouse for investigative materials tied to police involved shootings once those cases are closed.
In a statement, the AG’s office acknowledged they are monitoring the legislation but have not taken a position on it at this point.
Sen. Williams told the committee 15 states have already taken steps to improve transparency in police use of force investigations, and three—Illinois, Utah, and Wisconsin—prohibit the investigator from being employed by the same agency.
“Although there is not one single remedy to eliminate police misconduct and restore public trust, we must take steps to make our processes more transparent and without bias,” Williams said.
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