Police created ‘volatile’ situation on New Year’s Eve, report concludes
- Published: March 4, 2017
The independent investigation of actions of local police and citizens following the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop downtown holds the police responsible for creating a “volatile and unsafe situation.”
According to the report, “Thus, the decision to disperse the crowd at the wrong time and for the wrong reason, with no advance announcement, followed by the inappropriate use of the police cruisers and sirens as a crowd dispersal technique, created a volatile and unsafe situation.”
The 22-page report concludes an independent investigation of the incident by Dayton attorney David Williamson, with assistance from Matthew M. Suellentrop. Williamson, who was hired by the Village to conduct the investigation soon after the incident, will deliver results at Village Council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 6. The investigation included interviews with more than 40 persons, including the police officers involved and 38 villagers, plus review of police cameras and cell phone videos.
While the report comments on actions of individual employees, it does not make any recommendations concerning disciplinary or employment action involving officers involved, stating that such recommendations are the “sole province of the Village Manager.” It does contain recommendations regarding the New Year’s Eve Ball drop. The report can be viewed online at http://www.yso.com, click on Council packet for March 6.
Regarding the police actions, the report notes that of the four officers present, the senior officer, RJ Hawley, had never before worked the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, although he directed the officers’ actions. No supervisor was present nor on duty, with Sergeant Joshua Knapp off duty after having given the officers instructions to begin dispersing the crowd by at least 12:45, in whatever manner they saw fit.
However, Hawley decided the crowd needed to be dispersed earlier. In his incident report he wrote, according to the report, “Due to the overwhelming size of the crowd, the levels of intoxication observed, the insidious statements that were being made about police officers and the lack of manpower, it was determined that it would be best to attempt to clear the crowd out earlier than has been done in previous years.”
The description of the event differed markedly from that of citizens, who described the ball drop as peaceful and festive, the report noted.
When police began driving their cruisers through the crowd with sirens blaring at 12:08, the action created distress and confusion, the report said.
“With no announcement by the police officers beforehand of their intentions to disperse the event at the time and in the manner employed, most Villagers felt confused, alarmed and unsafe,” the report states. “Witnesses perceived some of the police officers’ subsequent communications, when citizens were inquiring as to what was occurring, as terse, rude and authoritative. Many citizens felt mocked, violated and disrespected….”
The investigators researched policies of other departments and “could find no recommendation of the technique of driving a motor vehicle into a crowd of people for the purpose of crowd control,” the report stated. It also noted the presence at the event of pets, children and people in wheelchairs, thus creating the potential for harm. The report also notes that sirens were used in an inappropriate manner.
During the event, Officer Hawley tackled David Carlson, 29, who Officer Allison Saurber attempted to tase. The fracas followed what Hawley described in his report as menacing language from Carlson, who Hawley said threatened him while Hawley was sitting in his cruiser, tried to pin him in the car and then grabbed his taser and ran, before Hawley followed. Carlson, who is black, was charged with a fifth-degree felony for obstructing official business.
The report is inconclusive regarding Carlson’s actions during the event. His voice is heard on Hawley’s audio cam offering to help while Hawley instructed him to step back, or he’d go to jail. While a few observers did see Carlson, who appeared to Hawley to be intoxicated, leaning against the car, there was no corroboration that he grabbed a taser and ran with it, the report said.
The report did not find witnesses to Hawley’s claim that Village Council member Marianne MacQueen also tried to pin him in the car. MacQueen was charged with a misdemeanor for obstructing official business.
Investigators were critical of Hawley aiming his taser at Carlson and attempting to tase him while inside his cruiser, before he got out and chased him. The Yellow Springs Use of Force standard, like most standards, suggests a “use of force continuum” in which an officer first employs lesser display of force “in the absence of deadly force by the subject.” In the situation described, Hawley’s attempted tasing of Carlson appeared to escalate the officers’ response “several steps” when other means of response were more appropriate.
The report is also critical of Officer Saurber’s action, following the attempted tasing of Carlson, at aiming her taser at the crowd and ordering people to “back off.” “A taser should never be used for crowd management or crowd dispersal,” the report states. Saurber has since left the department. The report also notes that several villagers described the other officers present, Jeff Beam and Mark Charles, as having a calming influence.
Other recommendations from investigators include that the Village should adopt an event safety policy, to be included in police training; that police officers assigned to New Year’s Eve duty should be fully informed of the tradition, nature and timing of the event; and that the chief should enforce use of force standards, including use of tasers and sirens.
A more detailed report of the report and Monday night’s Council meeting will be in the March 9 News.