Man with disabilities accuses Dayton police of misconduct

Internal police investigation cleared officers of misconduct

A Dayton man who is deaf, mute and has cerebral palsy accused Dayton police officers of mistreating and injuring him and said his experience demonstrates that officers need training on how to appropriately interact with people with disabilities.

Jack Runser, 50, and people advocating on his behalf said at a public Citizens’ Appeals Board hearing on Thursday that officers Seth Victor and Joshua Wiesman had no reason to stop, question, detain, handcuff and transport Runser to a hospital miles from his home.

An internal police investigation into Runser’s complaint exonerated the officers and says their actions were justified, proper and complied with police policies and practice. Runser appealed that finding to the board.

Wiesman and Victor were invited to the appeals hearing but didn’t attend.

After a brief executive session, the appeals board said it could not make a decision on the appeals case at this time but it would schedule a new session soon to review further evidence.

The officers did not give Runser a meaningful opportunity to communicate, and their actions violated many department policies and rules of conduct, said Debra Southard, who spoke on Runser’s behalf at the hearing.

“What lawful reason was there to stop Mr. Runser and violate his Fourth Amendment right to detain him, to abduct him and take him to a hospital when there was no medical need for him to be there,” Southard said.

Runser, speaking through an American Sign Language interpreter, said: “I’m outraged by this situation … I was frightened and very scared throughout the whole ordeal because no one communicated with me.”

The appeals board can agree or disagree with the decisions of internal police investigations into allegations of misconduct, and its determinations are submitted to all parties involved and the Dayton City Commission for review.

The board’s main responsibilities are to hear appeals and review policies and procedures and make recommendations as directed by the city manager and police chief.

Special reports the officers wrote about the incident say Runser was combative, looked like he could not take care of himself and his behaviors seemed consistent with methamphetamine intoxication.

Some advocacy groups say police across the country sometimes interpret the actions of people with physical and psychiatric disabilities as signs of intoxication, resistance and aggression.

Dayton police and city officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment by deadline Thursday.

In a memo about the investigation into the complaint, police Sgt. Jonathan Sopczak wrote that the officers were unable to properly identify that Runser was hearing impaired and believed he might be suffering a medical emergency.

“Additionally, due to the officers properly wearing masks during the incident, a barrier to communication was created,” Sopczak wrote. “Mr. Runser stated because he was unable to read the officers’ lips he did not know he was being stopped for what reason.”

On Nov. 8, a passing motorist called 911 and said that a man who may have disabilities was walking in the grassy median of South Gettysburg Avenue. The caller said he wanted someone to make sure the man was OK.

Runser says that day he decided to walk from his home in southwest Dayton about 1.5 miles to the Dollar General on the 800 block of South Gettysburg Avenue to get some coffee. Some parts of South Gettysburg Avenue do not have sidewalks, including a stretch south of the Dayton Correctional Facility.

In their special reports, officers Wiesman and Victor said they got out of their vehicles in the Dollar General parking lot, stepped in front of Runser and asked if he was OK, but he tried to walk past them.

Victor wrote in his report that he feared Runser would continue to ignore the officers and flee or he was having a medical emergency severe enough that he didn’t notice them.

Victor said he grabbed Runser’s arm to get his attention and stop him, and claims Runser tensed and tried to pull away.

Victor said Runser ignored officers’ instructions and commands, his actions seemed aggressive and he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police cruiser for everyone’s safety. Victor said Runser’s movements resembled someone reacting to methamphetamine use.

Wiesman’s special report says Runser’s disheveled appearance and strong body odor suggested he could not take care of himself, and his body language and facial expressions made it look like he was high on methamphetamine.

Wiesman said Runser was combative and tried to escape Victor’s grasp.

But Southard said Runser had no idea the officers were trying to talk to him and he merely tried to walk around them.

Runser became upset when his arm was grabbed, and he tried to tell the officers through sign language that he is deaf and mute, but he was ignored, according to Southard.

Officers asked Runser by writing questions on a notepad if he had ID and if he could hear them, and he responded nonverbally that he didn’t, she said.

The officers should have called an interpreter as required by policy, Southard said, but instead they used force to put Runser in handcuffs and then in the back of a cruiser, which caused him “excruciating” pain because he shakes involuntarily from cerebral palsy.

“They profiled him because of his socioeconomic status,” she said.

Runser was taken to Miami Valley Hospital for an emergency medical admission, but hospital staff communicated via sign language. Runser told them he is deaf and mute and he was released without treatment, Southard said.

But Runser later learned his wrist was fractured , and the officers stranded Runser miles from home, Southard said.

Runser’s complaint was not properly and thoroughly investigated, Southard said.

Speaking through a translator, Runser on Thursday told the Citizens’ Appeals Board, “The whole encounter has been scarred into my mind and I’ll never forget how Dayton police treated me that day.”

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