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Citizen Complaint Authority: Cincinnati Police acted improperly at times during 2020 protests

A new report finds Cincinnati Police didn't respond correctly in all cases during the 2020 local protests against the death of George Floyd, including using mass arrests of nonviolent protesters instead of simply citing them.

Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. Thousands protested locally and more than 400 were arrested.

The report is the result of investigations by the Citizen Complaint Authority, the city's independent police oversight board. CCA Director Gabe Davis presented the report to the Board Monday night.

The Board will vote on each investigation to accept the recommended findings, or to return the case for further study. The Board voted Monday night to delay that decision for all protest-related cases until the next meeting in March.

CPD Chief Teresa Theetge defended officers to the Board Monday night. Theetge, who was an assistant chief at the time of the protests, says she saw officers behave admirably.

"It was not a sterile environment where they could take moments in time to think about activating or deactivating a body camera, stopping to tell the supervisor, 'Hey, I just used force, can you come document it for me?' " Theetge said. "So I think that's imperative to know, as you read these reports."

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The CCA report acknowledged the difficult circumstances of the protests.

"[On] those occasions where CCA possessed sufficient evidence to make determinations as to specific allegations made by citizens, the evidence showed that the majority of police officers subject to complaint on those allegations acted in accordance with existing police policy, procedure and training," it said. "This report is offered in the spirit of strengthening the bonds of trust between police and community, promoting transparency, ensuring mutual accountability, and preventing (or reducing) future complaints against Cincinnati law enforcement."

Report Findings

Among the significant findings: a lawsuit by officer Ryan Olthaus against critics of his actions during one of the protests violated department policy. Two protesters accused Olthaus of making a white supremacist gesture when he flashed the "OK" symbol at them. Complaints about the gesture itself were not sustained by the CCA, but its report claims the lawsuit was an attempt to "punish" those who filed the complaint and that Olthaus interfered with the investigation into his actions.

The CCA report found 14 of 54 complaints related to the protests had merit and should result in discipline or policy changes. Half of the complaints were Not Sustained, meaning there wasn't enough evidence to decide whether the alleged misconduct occurred.

The rest were either Exonerated (the conduct occurred but didn't violate CPD policy, procedure, or training — 6 complaints) or Unfounded (no facts support the incident actually occurred — 7 complaints).

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Of the complaints that were sustained, one involved excessive force when officers tased a protester who was already on the ground. Others involved violations of police policy about body-worn cameras and reporting uses of force.

The report says it was difficult to investigate most of the complaints because many officers who used force were not required to wear body cameras, like those assigned to SWAT or the Civil Disturbance Response Team. And, the report says, "no officer appears to have submitted written first-hand narratives justifying their own conduct in a use of force report." The result is that the CCA couldn't identify officers who were alleged to have used force.

Report Recommendations

The report suggests that CPD shouldn't use the mass arrest technique it deployed against protesters.

"The City of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Police Department should significantly limit the use of mass arrests for non-violent offenders as a part of protest management — favoring citations over arrests — and strong limits on such arrests should be codified in police policies and procedure so as to discourage mass arrests, except as a last resort measure," the report reads.

The report recommends the creation of a Civil Demonstrations Policy to address the role of police in "facilitating First Amendment expression." The policy should "deemphasize approaches that are framed to address 'disturbance control' so as to ensure proper balance between safety and protecting the right to engage in lawful protest."

Several recommendations involve clarifying policy and providing more training related to protests, demonstrations, crowd control, and civil disturbances.

If the CCA Board votes to accept the findings and recommendations in the report, the City Manager and Police Chief will decide whether to implement the recommendations.

Read the full report below:

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.