The Columbus Division of Police will no longer be permitted to use tear gas as a crowd-control measure, and pepper spray will be limited to “clear instances of violence,” Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and other city officials announced Tuesday.
“I’ve heard loud and clear from the people of Columbus that tear gas and pepper spray used indiscriminately with peaceful protesters is not acceptable,” Ginther said, adding that he had issued a new directive to the police division.
“Tear gas will no longer be used to break up peaceful protests. Period,” he said.
Police Chief Thomas Quinlan also will convene a new 14-member advisory panel designed to allow community stakeholders to have a meaningful way to provide input into strategies, development of community policing practices, and an increase in the community transparency of police operations, officials said.
The panel was selected by Ginther and the city council. The panel has 10 Blacks, three whites and one Latino member; it has nine women and five men.
“I’m learning the names today,” Quinlan said at an afternoon press conference. “Whatever they want to bring to the table is what we’re going to discuss.”
The announcement came more than two weeks after protests in Downtown Columbus drew thousands of people, and the use of tear gas and pepper spray was documented by Dispatch reporters and protesters alike.
Under the division’s previous rules, officers were permitted to use chemical agents for a variety of reasons when dealing with protesters, even “for the sole reason of someone stepping into the street,” said City Attorney Zach Klein.
The new rule will add specific language that a protester’s failure to move or leave a street does not meet the standard for chemical agents, Klein said.
“We get it,” Quinlan said. “We understand that the community’s expectations have changed.”
But when pressed on how police will handle a situation like the ones that arose repeatedly during the protests, where many peaceful protesters were mixed among more aggressive ones throwing objects at police and damaging property, Quinlan said the division is developing new tactics “to isolate people who are committing criminal acts of violence, to go in and remove them from the crowd.”
It’s a felony to assault a police officer, Quinlan said, adding that 187 officers were injured during the protests.
The Columbus protests and subsequent rioting started May 28 in response to the death three days earlier of George Floyd, a black man arrested by Minneapolis police for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. Cellphone videos showed that an officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd complained that he couldn’t breathe. The incident set off protests and riots around the United States and the world.
Ginther said that during the first two nights of protests and rioting, in which damage to the Statehouse and Downtown property occurred, he thought that police were on the receiving end of much of the abuse and violence, and that officers initially acted with restraint.
However, on Saturday, May 30, his view changed, he said, when he saw police using chemical agents “indiscriminately” on returning nonviolent protesters. On that day, the police response became “overly aggressive and inappropriate,” Ginther said.
City Council President Shannon Hardin said he knows that police tactics need to change, “having experienced this firsthand.” Hardin and other local black leaders who attended a Downtown protest on that Saturday were pepper-sprayed — even as they fled.
The members named to Quinlan’s advisory panel are:
• Aba Azeem, vice chair of the Create Columbus Commission
• Lourdes Barosso de Padilla, director of the Latina Mentoring Academy, 43, of the Eastmoor neighborhood
• J. Love Benton, Queer Partnership for Black Liberation, 42
• James Burke IV, president of the Columbus National Pan Hellenic Council, 33, of Blacklick
• LaShaun Carter, chief diversity officer at Franklin County Children Services and a Columbus Community Safety Advisory commissioner, 42, of Gahanna
• Stefanie Coe, a member of the Civil Service Commission, 41, of the West Side
• Yaves Ellis, pastor and director of Community Affairs at Urban 1, 33, of the Southeast Side
• Tammy Fournier, founder and organizing director of the People’s Justice Project and a Columbus Community Safety Advisory commissioner, 58, of the Northeast Side
• Florence Lathen, human resources consultant and executive coach, 64, of Downtown
• Kristy McCray, associate professor, Otterbein University, 39, of Clintonville
• Diane Menashe, partner, Ice Miller law firm, 46, of Upper Arlington
• Andrew B. Pierce II, undergraduate student, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Ohio State University
• Randall Sistrunk, director of development, Orange Barrel Media, 37, of the Southeast Side
• Erin Upchurch, executive director, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, 42, of the Northwest Side
The ages and areas of the city where every panelist lives were not all available by deadline.
Quinlan said, “The panel will act as a sounding board for me regarding community needs, concerns, and expectations, as well as provide community feedback to current and proposed police programs and priorities.”
“We want to be a part of making change in Columbus,” said Benton, who represents the Queer Partnership for Black Liberation — not Black, Out and Proud, as the release from the mayor’s office states.
Benton got the appointment on the panel after a meeting the Queer Partnership had with the mayor's office. Continued discussions led to her inclusion on the panel.
Benton said she and those she represents on the panel will push for four initiatives:
• Implementation of the Matrix recommendations and the Community Safety Advisory Commission’s recommendations.
• Immediate creation and implementation of a citizens review board.
• A full review and revamp of the city’s use-of-force policy and safety plan.
• Appointment of a special prosecutor from outside the jurisdiction for all investigations into officer misconduct and lethal use of force.
“They’re all equally important,” Benton said. “This partnership, we are very uneasy with Chief Quinlan’s actions and words throughout this entire protest and unrest in Columbus. That is something we are also monitoring closely.”
Dispatch Reporter Bethany Bruner contributed to this story.