‘Volatile situation’ created by YSPD, report states
- Published: March 16, 2017
At Village Council’s March 6 meeting, Council members and villagers heard independent investigator David Williamson hold local police responsible for creating a “volatile and unsafe” downtown following the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.
“Thus, the decision to disperse the crowd at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, with no advance announcement, followed by the inappropriate use of police cruisers and sirens as a crowd dispersal technique, created a volatile and unsafe situation,” Williamson read aloud from his report.
The 22-page report concludes the investigation by Williamson and his assistant, who were hired in early January following public outcry over police tactics on New Year’s Eve. While the report held police responsible for the evening’s chaos, it did not make disciplinary recommendations. A second report that makes those recommendations, also by Williamson, should be finished soon, according to Village Manager Patti Bates, who said the second report will first go to Interim Police Chief Brian Carlson, who will recommend actions, then to Bates, who will make final disciplinary or employment decisions, with the input of Council.
In response to the report, Council President Karen Wintrow expressed apologies from Council.
“Everyone sitting at this table is sorry this event happened,” Wintrow said of the New Year’s Eve event, stating that police actions “were not only misguided but dangerous.” The event “should never have happened,” and it “exacerbated an already tense relationship” between police and the community.
Council members also unanimously approved a motion by Council member Marianne MacQueen that Council write a letter to Greene County Prosecutor Stephen Haller requesting that Haller drop the charges against David Carlson, who was charged with the fifth-degree felony of obstructing official business at the event by Officer RJ Hawley. Hawley stated that both Carlson, who is black, and MacQueen attempted to pen Hawley in his car. Hawley also asserted that Carlson reached into his car and grabbed his taser, then ran off with it.
The investigators, who spoke with more than 40 villagers and police officers, and also viewed cell phone and cruiser videos, could find no corroboration for Hawley’s assertion regarding Carlson grabbing the taser, Williamson said.
Given the investigation’s conclusion that police created the chaotic situation, Carlson’s charges should be dropped, said MacQueen, whose own misdemeanor charges for the same offense were dropped that day. MacQueen also noted that while she and Carlson were charged with essentially the same behavior, “I was treated differently.”
Also in response to the report, Council member Judith Hempfling identified positive steps that have followed the NYE incident.
“This has put a fire under us,” Hempfling said, referring to the Justice System Task Force, the citizen commission that is looking critically at the local justice system and possible improvements, for which Hempfling is Council liaison.
And the hiring of Interim Police Chief Brian Carlson, who replaced former Chief Dave Hale following Hale’s resignation two days after the New Year’s Eve incident, is a second positive outcome, she said.
“His commitment to the kind of policing we want is very evident,” she said of Carlson.
Wintrow acknowledged some villagers’ concern over the cost of the investigation, which hasn’t been finalized but will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“We understand this report costs a lot of money,” she said. “The important thing was getting it done in a fair and thorough manner. We think in the long run the results of the report will be worth it.”
Misguided crowd control
The complete investigation report can be accessed online at http://www.yso.com, click on Council packet for March 6.
Regarding the evening’s events, the report notes that of the four officers present, the senior officer, RJ Hawley, had never before worked on New Year’s Eve. However, since he was the senior officer, he directed the actions of other officers — Allison Saurber, Mark Charles and Jeff Beam.
No supervisory officer was on duty that night, with Sergeant Josh Knapp having emailed instructions several days earlier. In the instructions, Knapp suggested that the event be brought to a close by 12:45 a.m. at the latest, although he left no instructions regarding how to do so.
However, Hawley decided the crowd needed to be dispersed earlier, and began doing so around 12:08. In his incident report Hawley stated that, “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.”
Hawley’s description of the event differed markedly from that of villagers present, who called the event peaceful and festive, the investigation 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 states.
“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 or disrespected.”
After researching crowd control methods in other departments, the investigators “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 states. It also notes the presence on New Year’s Eve downtown of children, pets and several people in wheelchairs, creating the potential for serious harm. The report also notes that sirens were used in an inappropriate manner.
The report further notes Hawley’s attempted tasing of Carlson while still sitting in his cruiser. The attempted tasing took place after Carlson approached the cruiser, offering several times to help. However, perceiving Carlson as intoxicated and threatening, Hawley told him to back off, or he’d go to jail. Hawley then aimed his taser at Carlson, after which, according to Hawley’s report, Carlson grabbed it and ran, although no witness saw Carlson with a taser.
Soon after, Hawley exited his car, grabbed Carlson and both fell to the ground near the Little Art Theatre. The crowd became increasingly distressed and some attempted to intervene and protect Carlson as Officer Saurber attempted to tase him, the report states. However, the taser misfired.
Investigators criticized the officers’ use of tasers during the event. Hawley’s aiming of his taser at Carlson escalated the police officer’s “use of force” several steps beyond what was appropriate to the situation, the report states. It is also critical of Saurber later aiming her taser at the crowd and warning people to “back off.” “A taser should never be used for crowd dispersement or crowd management,” the report states.
The report also notes that several villagers described the other officers present, Officers Beam and Charles, as having a calming influence on the crowd, which gradually dispersed after the arrival of several other neighboring departments. Officer Dennis Nipper Jr. of the Greene County Sheriff’s had a particularly calming effect on the situation, the report states.
Need sensitivity to race
In response to the report, Pat Dewees of the Justice System Task Force thanked Williamson for his work. She also asked villagers and Village leaders to take note of the possible racial implications of the New Year’s Eve incident.
“David Carlson is a young black man and we need an awareness that sometimes when a young black man is stopped for something minor, it escalates quickly,” she said. While it’s not clear that Carlson’s charges were motivated by race, “we need to have the understanding that this is an extremely sensitive issue and we need to pay attention.”
Attorney Laura Curliss, who is representing Carlson, also spoke about her concerns regarding racial aspects of the incident.
“I’m concerned that Marianne’s and David’s actions were the same and the charges were so different,” she said.
Council’s assertion that police behavior will improve is nothing new, according to Katie Rose Wright and Kate Hamilton, who expressed their distress regarding the 2013 police shooting of Paul E. Schenck, who was a good friend.
“I love Yellow Springs, but that love is dwindling,” Wright said, due to feeling that the town no longer cares about the other victims of the Schenck shooting, his parents, Paul and Uta.
“The community has forgotten them,” Wright said.
In the final response, villager Dave Chappelle urged Council to see the current situation as “a tremendous opportunity to be a leader in progressive law enforcement,” he said. “In this Trump era, it’s an opportunity to show everyone that local government reigns supreme.”