After a directive from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther to “immediately stop the use of tear gas and pepper spray” on peaceful protesters, a rally in Ohio’s capital appears to have included not only the use of such chemical agents, but also, according to eyewitnesses, involved uniformed officers removing and attempting to confiscate the prosthetic limbs of a protester.
By all accounts, the protest—one of thousands occurring around the country against police brutality and racism broadly—was a peaceful one. “Protestors were on the intersection of Broad and High when CPD decided to clear the area and sent in bike cops with mace to clear them out,” an individual who filmed the incident and who asked to remain nameless told Gizmodo. An earlier video shows Columbus Division of Police officers using their bicycles to as weapons to push protesters back, though it’s not clear where they were attempting to move them.
In footage of the confrontation sent to Gizmodo, the still-unidentified protester is seen walking away from police after having thrown a what appears to be a cardboard sign; moments later, police tackle the protester and drag him across the ground as officers spray mace at demonstrators.
While video has yet to surface of the entire altercation—Hannah, one of the videographers who we spoke to, was also maced, which made continuing to film this apparent disregard for the mayor’s directive difficult—the aftermath shows the young man, his legs detached, having his eyes flushed out by other protesters. Officers seemed to be demanding protesters move from the roadway to the sidewalk. But Hannah, who was filming from that same sidewalk and asked that we not identify her by her full name, claims to have been maced regardless.
“The kid was knocked down and maced, and he tried to get away. The cops had him by the ankles and once the prosthetics (sic) came loose, the kid RAN up High street on his palms,” our anonymous videographer wrote in an email. A second eyewitness corroborated this description. It seems that when the prosthetic legs detached, officers simply tried to take them, both eyewitnesses said, as well as the Reddit user who shot footage of the aftermath, claim protester had to take them back from police by force. “Bystanders literally grabbed that kid’s legs away from the police and gave him first aid,” meanmrbadger wrote. (This user did not reply to a request for comment before publication.)
This incident was, for all the individuals we spoke to, more in line with CPD’s response during the first week of protests in the city, which included the use of chemical agents other and “less lethal” weaponry that, despite their name, has led to injuries and even death. (In Columbus, 22-year-old Sarah Grossman died earlier this month after attending a protest where police deployed pepper spray, but the family said in a statement responding to speculation, “Autopsy and toxicology reports are not complete and there is no evidence at this time that pepper spray caused her death.”) In the intervening weeks, our sources say, things had largely calmed down until yesterday.
Gizmodo was unable to reach either CPD or Mayor Ginther’s office for comment. In a tweet posted yesterday, Ginther said his office is investigating the incident.
Partly this increase in police use of force can be chalked up to the local Fraternal Order of Police, which opted over the weekend at challenge Mayor Ginther directly. “You also ordered our officers to turn in their tear gas,” FoP President Keith Ferrell wrote in a letter to the Mayor. “Please understand, no officer ever wants to have to use tear gas. However, this is the training we have received at the academy and you failed to communicate to our officers what specific crowd control methods we should use in place of our training.”
Ginther has since crumpled, tweeting yesterday that police “were met with violence from some and took action, including using mace and pepper spray as appropriate to keep crowds in sidewalks.” Perhaps it should not be a surprising outcome, given that Ginther’s limp directive left latitude for the police themselves to determine what is and isn’t “peaceful” protest.
Update 6/22/20 10:30pm: After these videos continued to circulate, CPD have since confirmed that Nathan Hargus was the officer responsible. Police told the Columbus Dispatch that in their review of police footage, the still unidentified protester was “throwing water bottles, then two large plywood signs at officers.”
“At about 4 p.m., video shows the shirtless man with prosthetic legs hurl a 4-foot tall sign, grazing the head and neck of an officer, who was not seriously hurt,” the Dispatch wrote. It’s unclear if that characterization comes directly from CPD or from the Dispatch, but the videos provided to Gizmodo showed the disabled individual wearing a shirt at all points relevant to the incident.
CPD’s spokesman, Sgt. James Fuqua claimed the only edits made to the official video (still not released to the public) were for brevity’s sake. Somehow, with access to footage from a pole-mounted camera located on across the street and body cam feed from three officers, the Dispatch wrote, “there was no video of the man’s prosthetic legs being separated.”