An internal police investigation released Tuesday found that two Dayton police officers did not violate department policies when they yanked paraplegic resident Clifford Owensby from his vehicle by the hair and arm during a traffic stop last fall.
The investigation by the Dayton Police Department’s Professional Standards Bureau “exonerated” officers Wayne Hammock and Vincent Carter of violating department policy for the level of force they used, how they transported Owensby to their cruiser and how they followed procedures like calling a supervisor to the scene when requested.
“The request for the free-air canine sniff, the level of force used on Mr. Owensby and placing him in the police cruiser were not a violation of policy,” said Dayton’s new police Chief Kamran Afzal.
However, the investigation says Hammock made an unprofessional comment after the traffic stop and both officers also violated policy by muting the microphones on their body cameras.
Owensby last month filed a federal lawsuit that accuses the officers of using excessive force, making an unlawful arrest and failing to make proper accommodations for his disability.
Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward on Tuesday said while the investigation’s findings are very disappointing, he hopes and believes that Owensby will get the justice he deserves in court.
“Justice will prevail in this case,” Foward said at a press conference Tuesday, in comments meant to address Owensby and his family. “Don’t lose hope. Don’t lose sight. ... And you’ve got people, you’ve got a community that’s rallying behind you.”
A summary of the Professional Standards Bureau’s investigation into the Sept. 30 traffic stop of Owensby says that officers were justified in pulling him over, calling a narcotics-detecting canine to the scene and ordering Owensby out of the vehicle.
Department policy calls for all occupants of the vehicle to be removed before a free-air sniff takes place, the investigative findings report says. The report also cited case law saying police can make drivers get out of a vehicle during a traffic stop.
The report, which was sent to Dayton’s police chief by Lt. Eric Sheldon with the Professional Standards Bureau, says that Owensby refused officers’ multiple offers to help him out of the vehicle, and he gripped the steering wheel.
Both officers grabbed Owensby’s arm to pull him out of the vehicle, and Hammock pulled him by the dreadlocks as well, the investigation says.
A bystander filmed the incident and uploaded the video to social media, resulting in many shares and comments that weekend.
The incident, which also was recorded on body camera, gained national attention, and protesters gathered outside City Hall during a Dayton City Commission meeting, calling for police reforms in the city and the discipline or termination of the officers.
The PSB report says that hair-pulling is a “viable subject control tactic” that can be effective when necessary, and that Hammock’s decision to pull Owensby out by the dreadlocks was “nontraditional but effective.”
During an administrative interview, Hammock told a police sergeant that Owensby was actively resisting, but that he did not want to use pepper spray or his taser because there was a child in the back seat of the vehicle.
“I thought it was better for a pain compliance instead of delivering strikes, I grabbed his hair to cause pain and it’s an old martial arts technique,” he said.
The report says Owensby’s criminal history included weapon and narcotic violations, and officers did not know he was unarmed at the time of the stop.
Owensby’s federal lawsuit says that he told the officers multiple times that he is disabled and unable to step out of the vehicle.
Credit: Jim Noelker
Credit: Jim Noelker
The investigation also found that Hammock violated the department’s rules of conduct with a comment he made that was captured by body camera video: “Carter, why’d you beat that poor man up?”
Hammock also silenced his body-worn camera about 25 minutes into the incident, and Carter briefly muted his device after Hammock made the “unprofessional” comment, which he described as a joke, the report states.
The officers received a training memo regarding those violations, and neither officer was suspended or had their pay reduced due to the traffic stop, said Chief Afzal.
Since this incident, the police department has amended its policy to add language about the arrest and transport of people with physical disabilities, he said.
Police will receive additional training related to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), Afzal said, and the law department also is doing a thorough review of police policies and training related to this incident that may lead to some changes and additions.
The police department also has created a new position that will be staffed by an attorney to oversee the department’s ADA compliance, he said.
“Every time an incident occurs, you also want to look at yourselves; could you have done things better?” he said.
The city and police department also were recently sued by a man who is deaf, mute and has cerebral palsy who accuses officers of violating his rights.
Foward, with the Dayton Unit NAACP, said Tuesday was a “sad day” because of the PSB’s report and findings.
Foward, who described Owensby as a client of the NAACP Dayton Unit, said he complied with multiple police commands, but officers did not fulfill his reasonable request for a supervisor.
Foward said Owensby was unable to get out of his vehicle due to disability and police “egregiously” pulled him out by his hair.
He said police had no reason to stop Owensby, and that they failed to provide appropriate accommodations for his disability.
“That is a sad state of affairs in this community,” Foward said.
Foward said he thinks Owensby’s civil lawsuit against the city and Hammock and Carter will prevail.
The lawsuit claims that the police officers were “ill-equipped” to accommodate the needs of a person with disabilities who physically could not comply with their commands.
The officers were aggressive and abusive, and their actions caused Owensby significant pain and harm, the lawsuit states, and Owensby was trying to de-escalate the situation by asking for a “white shirt,” or supervisor.
Afzal also said that the city had a “third party” review the case and investigation, saying that third party reached the same conclusions about the lack of policy violations.
Foward said he doesn’t understand why the city didn’t share the identify of the third party, adding the city should be transparent in this case.