Nov
17
2019
Yellow Springs
47°
clear sky
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H 53 • L 44
Village Council

The independent investigation of police and citizens of the New Year's Eve Ball Drop incident holds police responsible for having created a "volatile and unsafe situation."

Case against David Carlson is still active

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One of the two criminal cases stemming from the tensions between police and villagers on New Year’s Eve was recently dropped. The second case remains active, although Village Council members have intervened and asked the Greene County prosecutor to drop the charges.

On Monday, March 6, prosecutor Tom Schiff of Germantown, filling in for Xenia Law Director Ron Lewis, dropped charges against Yellow Springs Council member Marianne MacQueen, who faced a first-degree misdemeanor for obstructing official business at the New Year’s Eve event. Yellow Springs Police Officer RJ Hawley, the senior officer on the scene, made the charge after asserting that following the ball drop MacQueen tried to pen Hawley in his car as he attempted to exit.

The charge was dropped due to a lack of evidence against MacQueen, according to MacQueen’s lawyer, Mark Babb, in an interview last Friday. Schiff filled in for Lewis, who recused himself from the case because several of his children attended the ball drop event.

“Prosecutors have a duty to seek justice, and I commend this prosecutor for doing so,” Babb said. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

Last week the independent attorney hired by the Village to investigate the New Year’s Eve incident, David Williamson, presented Council with his final report, in which he held Yellow Springs police officers responsible for creating a “volatile and unsafe” situation on New Year’s Eve. Babb said he couldn’t comment about whether the prosecutor was influenced by the report.

According to Babb, seven witnesses stated that MacQueen had not been pushing against the police cruiser door to keep Hawley inside, as Hawley had stated, and no cameras showed her doing so. While the prosecution had two witnesses saying MacQueen had done as charged, those witnesses were Officer Hawley and Officer Allison Saurber, who also worked the New Year’s event. However, a police “dash cam” cited in the Williamson report caught Saurber stating, “Really?” when Hawley told her that MacQueen had tried to block him in. Saurber later stated in her incident report that MacQueen had blocked Hawley’s cruiser door.

“It’s particularly disturbing that a dash cam showed surprise from an officer who later said that Marianne pushed against the door,” Babb said.

Saurber has since left the department. Hawley has been on administrative leave since the incident.

In an interview last week, MacQueen said she was relieved the charges, which had weighed heavily on her, had been dropped.

“I waited two months,” she said. “The wait is punishment in itself.”

The charge weighed heavily partly because it brought back memories of a court case decades ago when MacQueen lost custody of her only child due to being in a lesbian relationship, a case brought to court by her ex-husband. The case, which later involved her losing parental rights entirely, only to have that decision reversed by the Virginia Supreme Court, lasted more than five years.

“It had a huge impact on me,” MacQueen stated of the earlier case. And the recent charges reminded her of the impotent feeling of being at the mercy of the court system.

MacQueen said she was also well aware that while the charges against her caused emotional suffering, her age and race gave her advantages over Carlson, who is young and black. He’s charged with a felony for what was essentially the same offense. 

At Council’s meeting on March 6, the day the charges were dropped, MacQueen requested that Village Council write a letter asking Prosecutor Stephen Haller to drop the charges against Carlson. Council unanimously agreed to do so.

However, charges against Carlson remain, according to his attorney, Laura Curliss, last Friday. He is also being represented by Dayton-based attorney Jon Paul Rion.

Carlson was unavailable to speak due to the ongoing nature of the case, according to Curliss. She added that he is appreciative of all the support he’s received from villagers.

Officer Hawley asserted that Carlson used threatening language against him, and also tried to block him in his car. He also charged that Carlson grabbed Hawley’s taser and ran away with it, resulting in a second charge of theft, a misdemeanor.

According to Curliss, the defense attorneys have shared with Greene County Prosecutors Stephen Haller and Suzanne Schmidt the investigator’s report, along with their interviews and camera videos from eye witnesses at the event. 

According to the investigator’s report, audio picked up from Hawley’s cruiser shows Carlson offering to help the officer, not making threatening statements.

“We do not have a recording of David saying anything threatening,” Curliss said.

She added that she and Rion hope to meet with the prosecutors this week to further discuss the evidence. If the case continues, the next step would be a grand jury.

Village Council last week unanimously approved, at MacQueen’s request, writing a letter to ask prosecutors to drop charges against Carlson, given that the investigator’s report blamed the police for creating a “volatile and unsafe” situation, among other police errors, including taser use.

“The report made clear that mistakes were made by our police department,” Council member Brian Housh said on Friday. 

Following last week’s meeting, Housh wrote a draft of a letter, which Council member Judith Hempfling reviewed, and the two delivered the letter in person to Haller last Thursday. They also made the request verbally that the charges against Carlson be dropped.

“It was a respectful conversation. They listened to what we had to say,” Housh said.

The two Council members also emphasized the racial aspects of the case, in which Carlson was charged with a felony for essentially the same offense in which MacQueen was charged with a misdemeanor.

“As many have said, it’s hard to establish the racial piece, but the fact that Carlson is a young black man is an important piece to recognize. There are questions,” Housh said.

However, Housh said of the meeting with the prosecutors, “I don’t know what the result will be.”

In a phone interview last Friday, Prosecutor Haller said, “We’re sitting on the case while we have a dialogue with the defense lawyers.” He said the prosecutors offered the defense attorneys a plea bargain, but did not comment on the nature of the offer.

Haller also described the meeting with Council as a respectful airing of views.

“They made their opinions known,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, the decision is up to me.”

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