Civil rights groups seek action after paraplegic man pulled from car by Dayton police

National and local civil rights groups have called for action to be taken against the Dayton police officers involved in an incident in which a paraplegic man was pulled from a car during a September traffic stop.

The National Urban League is calling for the officers involved to be dismissed and prosecuted from the incident involving motorist Clifford Owensby in September. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus released a statement saying the incident underlines the need for police reforms in the state.

Also, a protest is planned Wednesday outside Dayton city hall during the city commission meeting to voice outrage and concern over the officer’s actions, according to a group of people who recently organized in response to the incident.

Speakers at the protest will be the Rev. Joshua Ward, Bishop Richard Cox, a representative of Dayton’s New Black Panther Party, Daj’za Demmings and others. The group plans to speak about a need to rethink local public safety, according to a statement from the group.

“It is unthinkable that these officers remain on duty, patrolling our neighborhoods, paid by taxpayer dollars. The only sensible first step is to apologize for what was done to Mr. Owensby and get these officers off the streets right away to ensure they do no more harm to the people in this community,” Dayton resident Ari Gibbs said in the statement.

Combined ShapeCaption
Terri Owensby, left, helps her brother, Clifford Owensby, out of his vehicle Monday Oct. 4, 2021. Clifford Owensby said he is a paraplegic and Dayton police pulled him out of his vehicle during a traffic stop. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Terri Owensby, left, helps her brother, Clifford Owensby, out of his vehicle Monday Oct. 4, 2021. Clifford Owensby said he is a paraplegic and Dayton police pulled him out of his vehicle during a traffic stop. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Combined ShapeCaption
Terri Owensby, left, helps her brother, Clifford Owensby, out of his vehicle Monday Oct. 4, 2021. Clifford Owensby said he is a paraplegic and Dayton police pulled him out of his vehicle during a traffic stop. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

There are also plans for people to address the commission about the incident during the meeting.

The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police released a statement late last week supporting the officers.

“The officers followed the law, their training and departmental policies and procedures,” said Jerome Dix, president of Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 44. “Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety, which is one of the fundamental ideologies of our society.”

Dayton Police previously said that the officers remain on patrol.

“As we previously announced, the Dayton Police Department Professional Standards Bureau began an investigation for the officers involved in the September 30th traffic stop and drug investigation,” Dayton police told the Dayton Daily News. “The investigation began Oct. 1 and is still in progress. We would direct you to the Community Incident Briefing for any further information.”

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The incident occurred on Sept. 30, in the 1200 block of West Grand Avenue Dayton Police said officers pulled Clifford Owensby’s car over in connection to a drug investigation and traffic stop. Body camera footage shows police testing the car’s window tint, and one officer notices a child in the back seat of the vehicle who is not in a car seat.

It also shows them interacting with Owensby and asking him to exit the vehicle.

“I’m paraplegic,” Owensby says. “I got help getting in.”

“Well, I’ll help you get out,” the officer replies.

“Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, sir,” Owensby says.

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Clifford Owensby Sr., second from left, appears at a press conference Sunday with officials of the NAACP Dayton Unit to tell his side of an incident in which he was forcibly removed from his vehicle during a Sept. 30 traffic stop for an alleged window tint violation. Owensby is a paraplegic and could not step out of the vehicle as police ordered. At the table from left are the Rev. David Fox, Owensby, Derrick Foward, NAACP Dayton unit president, and Mattie P. White, first vice president of NAACP Dayton Unit. The incident remains under investigation by police. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Clifford Owensby Sr., second from left, appears at a press conference Sunday with officials of the NAACP Dayton Unit to tell his side of an incident in which he was forcibly removed from his vehicle during a Sept. 30 traffic stop for an alleged window tint violation. Owensby is a paraplegic and could not step out of the vehicle as police ordered. At the table from left are the Rev. David Fox, Owensby, Derrick Foward, NAACP Dayton unit president, and Mattie P. White, first vice president of NAACP Dayton Unit. The incident remains under investigation by police. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
Clifford Owensby Sr., second from left, appears at a press conference Sunday with officials of the NAACP Dayton Unit to tell his side of an incident in which he was forcibly removed from his vehicle during a Sept. 30 traffic stop for an alleged window tint violation. Owensby is a paraplegic and could not step out of the vehicle as police ordered. At the table from left are the Rev. David Fox, Owensby, Derrick Foward, NAACP Dayton unit president, and Mattie P. White, first vice president of NAACP Dayton Unit. The incident remains under investigation by police. ED RICHTER/STAFF

The officer then informs him that due to his history, which includes drug charges, they are calling in a police canine to do a free air smell, and that the officer will assist him out of the vehicle. Owensby says that there will be a lawsuit if the officer puts his hands on him for no reason, and Owensby then calls a person and asks them to come to the scene and to bring people with cameras.

The officer and Owensby continue to argue about him leaving the vehicle, and Owensby requests that the officer call a superior to the scene.

“Here’s the thing, I’m going to pull you out and then I’ll call a white shirt,” the officer says. “Because you’re getting out of the car. That’s not an option. You’re getting out this car, so you can cooperate and get out of the car, or I will drag you out of the car. Do you see your two options here?”

ExploreDayton police investigate after video shows disabled man pulled from car by officers

It is around this time the officers grab Owensby and jerk him from the vehicle and onto the road. An officer can be seen pulling Owensby by his hair while the other grabs his arm.

Owensby screams for help and asks that people in the area record the interaction. He is handcuffed and dragged to a police cruiser. Owensby said he was injured during the incident, receiving scrapes and reinjuring a previous back injury.

Police said they found more than $22,000 in the vehicle, which was alerted to by a canine. A police report from the incident cites misdemeanor obstructing official business and misdemeanor resisting arrest in the crime status information. He has not been charged with either count.

He was cited in Dayton Municipal Court with traffic citations child restraint or seat belt and tinted glass.

“I am saddened by the actions that I have seen displayed on the body camera footage of the officer who removed Clifford Owensby from his vehicle,” Rep. Willis Blackshear said in a statement. “This incident demonstrates the need for more de-escalation training, and also demonstrates the importance of body cameras. There is no way for us to change the events that happened, but we must continue to work to prevent this from happening in the future.”

The incident is a part of a larger issue in the state, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Rep Thomas West said.

“It saddens me to see Black Ohioans stopped by police for the smallest of infractions—a missing front plate, a burnt-out tail-light or window tint that’s too dark. These stops are often the result of profiling, and far too often, police escalate a situation that didn’t need to be escalated, leading to injury and even fatalities of predominately Black men. To see anyone, particularly an individual with a disability, be pulled forcefully out of their car and sustain injuries for what amounts to a minor infraction is infuriating,” West said.

“This incident is another reminder that we need real, comprehensive reforms to better train officers, hold them accountable for their actions, and eliminate the kind of biased policing that too often targets, incarcerates and kills Black people,” he said.

Also, the National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial released a statement calling for action.

“The violence these officers inflicted on a man with a disability who poses no threat whatsoever is painful to watch. The senselessness of repeatedly ordering him to walk when he clearly says he cannot is mind-boggling. This is the behavior of officers so drunk with power they believe their own authority supersedes the laws of physics.”

Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio President and CEO Eddie L. Koen said the behavior should not be tolerated.

“It’s incidents like this that undermine local reform efforts and erode public trust,” he said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley on Friday said in a statement the city remains committed to its ongoing community-led police reform process and providing transparency in such situations.

“The video of this police interaction is very concerning to me,” Whaley stated. “No matter where you live or what you look like, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect when dealing with Dayton police. Immediately following this interaction, the city released the body camera footage and a full investigation is already underway.”

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