Records shed light on traffic-stop-video officers, driver

When two Dayton police officers dragged a paraplegic Dayton man from his car last month during a traffic stop, the images caught on video brought about days of protests and both criticism and praise for the police officers’ actions.

Video recordings show Dayton Police Officer Vincent Carter tell the driver, Clifford Owensby, that he was pulled over because his window tint was too dark. Dayton Police Officer Wayne Hammock told Owensby he needed to get out of his car because they were calling a drug dog due to Owensby’s “history.” Dayton police commanders later clarified they were referring to his felony drug and weapons history.

The Dayton Daily News looked into the histories of all three men in an effort to provide context to the events leading up to what can be seen in the video. This includes Owensby’s criminal history because it was the pretext police cited for escalating the interaction, and the officers’ work histories because police critics say the incident is part of a larger pattern at the department.

The incident

Carter and Hammock are narcotics officers. They pulled over Owensby on Sept. 30 at the intersection of West Grand Avenue and Ferguson Avenue. Dayton police say Owensby was observed before the traffic stop leaving a suspected drug house.

Owensby says he was coming from a house on West Grand Avenue that he owns, and he suspects officers thought he had drugs because at that house someone helped him load two bags into the car containing cable boxes.

State business records show Owensby has several businesses registered in his name, including home improvement and landscaping companies. Those companies own multiple properties, including the one on West Grand Avenue, according to the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.

Owensby told officers the cash he had in his car was his savings, derived from collecting rent.

ExploreThe latest: Video shows Clifford Owensby speak with Dayton police officials after arrest

An 11-minute body camera video shows officers talking with Owensby and asking him to exit the vehicle. Owensby tells officers that he is paraplegic and cannot exit the vehicle. The video shows the officers and Owensby arguing over him exiting the vehicle — the officers say they will assist him out while Owensby asks the officers to call a supervisor to the scene.

Owensby told the Dayton Daily News in a recent interview he has been able to de-escalate traffic stops in the past by requesting a supervisor.

The body camera footage shows officers yanking Owensby by the hair and arm out of the vehicle and onto the road. They handcuff him and put him in the back of a police cruiser.

The officers

The two officers who made the Owensby stop, Carter and Hammock, graduated together in 2016 from the Dayton Police Academy.

In September, 2020, the two officers were involved in another arrest that brought critics downtown.

Carter and Hammock pulled over George Lail, 27, for running a red light. In the parking lot of the Westown Shopping Center the officers asked him to step out of the vehicle while they wrote him a ticket. Lail refused and repeatedly asked why he was being asked to step out, according to body camera video. Officers did not give Lail a reason. The officers pulled Lail from his car, and then Lail tried to flee.

A Facebook video that circulated on social media captured Lail trying to flee police before officers caught up to him. While Lail was on the ground, one officer can be seen punching Lail three times and Tasing him while officers attempt to handcuff him. Lail and his family have questioned whether the force used by officers was appropriate.

Lail pleaded guilty to a federal felony firearm possession charge because he was on parole and a gun was found in his vehicle.

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Federal court records say officers asked Lail to leave the vehicle because officers determined Lail was on parole for felonious assault and decided to remove him from the vehicle for officer safety while completing a citation.

Dayton police supervisors conducted an administrative investigation of Lail’s arrest and determined the officers responded appropriately.

Dayton police spokeswoman Cara Zinski-Neace released a statement last year that said “Mr. Lail was asked numerous times by Dayton officers, in a professional, polite, and patient manner to exit his vehicle, but he continuously refused to do so. Mr. Lail then resisted the officers’ attempts to physically remove him from the vehicle and fled before being caught and taken into custody.”

Personnel records for the officers show Carter was reprimanded in March 2020 and March 2021 for hitting other vehicles with his police car. Both Carter and Hammock were given a “training memo” in May 2021 for putting themselves in danger.

“On March 30, 2021, at 1617 hours, you and your partner, Officer Wayne Hammock, conducted a traffic stop, going head on with a vehicle that you believed had attempted to elude you. You both exited your cruiser and when the suspect fled, you were both exposed to the fleeing suspect vehicle and could have easily been struck,” the memo in Carter’s file says.

Both officers’ personnel files also include several commendations and letters of appreciation.

ExploreDayton FOP critical of elected officials’ reaction to arrest of Clifford Owensby

For Carter, his commendations includes the Medal of Valor from President Donald Trump and other awards for being one of the police officers who stopped a mass shooting in the Oregon District in August 2019. A shooting spree by 24-year-old Connor Betts killed nine people in 32 seconds, ending only after Carter and other officers returned fire and killed him.

Personnel records obtained by the Dayton Daily News show no recent records of discipline for either officer related to use of force. Dayton’s police union contract requires the city to remove disciplinary records from officers’ files at the officers’ request after two years for an oral or written reprimand, three years for a suspension of five days or less, and four years for a suspension of more than five days. Hammock in 2019 and Carter in 2020 submitted requests to have their personnel files purged.

Police officials say Carter and Hammock are still on patrol while city leaders are reviewing their actions in the Ownesby case.

The driver

Caption
Clifford Owensby in the front row of the Dayton City Commission meeting on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Clifford Owensby in the front row of the Dayton City Commission meeting on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Caption
Clifford Owensby in the front row of the Dayton City Commission meeting on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

When police pulled over a car driven by Clifford Owensby on Sept. 30, Owensby’s record of interaction with the police came into play almost immediately. Hammock asks Owensby to step out of the vehicle and Owensby asks him what’s the problem.

“Yeah, the problem is that, because of your history, I’m going to have a dog to a free air around the car. You have to be out of the car to do that,” Hammock says.

Dayton police say Owensby’s arrest history was a factor in escalating a stop for window tint to asking Owensby to exit the vehicle while they called a drug dog.

“Based upon Owensby’s felony drug and weapon history along with him leaving a suspected drug house, the officers requested a narcotics detection K-9 at the scene for a free-air sniff on the vehicle,” Dayton police commanders said in a presentation on Oct. 8.

It’s unclear what information officers were acting on, as the law enforcement database they accessed in their cruiser is barred from public inspection. Dayton police won’t say what exactly in his history led to the decision.

ExploreTimeline: How the Clifford Owensby incident with Dayton police unfolded, became national news

In 2013 he pleaded guilty to attempting to have weapons despite not being allowed because of a prior conviction, according to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court records. He was also convicted in 2008 of illegally having a weapon.

He was convicted of felony possession of marijuana in 2006 and 2008, and possession of cocaine in 2006.

In a 2015 case, Owensby was pulled over for having dark window tint. Police records say Owensby was taken out of the car so a K-9 officer could do a free air sniff. When officers patted down Owensby for weapons, they found $7,100 in cash in his pocket. The dog alerted to drugs, and police searched the car and found 3.5 grams of marijuana. Officers seized the money because the dog alerted that it smelled like drugs. He was cited for tinted windows as well as misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Owensby filed a lawsuit against Dayton police in 2016 to recover $10,000 that was seized from him after a 2008 traffic stop. In that case Owensby was pulled over for having dark-tinted windows and a bag of marijuana was found on a woman in the car. Owensby said the money was his savings. Police confiscated it because it was in proximity to drugs.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis Adkins dismissed Owensby’s lawsuit saying Dayton police had handed the money over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency so it wasn’t in his court’s jurisdiction.

In the incident last month, police confiscated $22,450 from his vehicle, saying a police dog indicated the money had been in close proximity to illegal drugs. Owensby says the money is his savings.

ExploreOwensby storms out of Dayton commission meeting as protests call for change

Owensby also was involved in a shootout in 2018 in a Harrison Twp. liquor store that left one man dead and left Owensby paralyzed from the waist down.

The incident occurred on Dec. 1, 2018 at the Salem Beverage Market. A sheriff’s office incident report says surveillance video shows Owensby and another man arguing, then both pulling out guns and shooting. A witness later said that he saw the other man shoot first.

Owensby was shot in the chest. The other man, Anthony Choice, 27, of Dayton, was later found in the front parking lot. Choice was pronounced dead after he was taken to the hospital.

Sheriff’s office officials said that none of the parties involved were cooperative with the investigation. Owensby said in a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News that he was shopping at the liquor store before closing and someone came in right around that same time.

“I don’t know who they were, I don’t know em’ or whatever, I was under the impression they were trying to rob the liquor store but they were targeting me. I was shot at that time and that’s why I’m in a chair now,” he said. He said that the bullet hit his spine.

No one was charged in the incident. Sheriff’s office officials say it remains an open investigation.

Reaction

Dayton city officials say a review of the Owensby case involving Carter and Hammock is ongoing and expected to take several weeks to complete.

Owensby’s attorney told the Dayton Daily News that Owensby’s previous run-ins with the law was not enough to prolong his stop.

“The fact is, oftentimes, when citizens, particularly minority citizens, are attacked by rogue law enforcement officers, the most common focal point referenced to excuse the officers’ behavior is the victims’ criminal histories,” said Clarissa Smith. “However, at least in the United States, even convicted persons have rights police officers are bound to respect.”

The fact that the records indicate these are the same officers in two arrests that have led to protests shows Dayton police is not taking complaints seriously, NAACP Dayton Unit President Derrick Foward said.

Caption
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
Caption
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

“If these are the same officers, it goes to show when leadership doesn’t discipline officers for aggressive behavior, it will continue,” he said.

He said the city doesn’t need aggressive officers but officers who are in control because “They are already in authority.”

The Fraternal Order of Police did not answer questions from the Dayton Daily News about the officers’ and Owensby’s histories. But the FOP issued a statement earlier this month defending the officers’ actions.

“The officers followed the law, their training, and departmental policies and procedures,” said a statement from Dayton FOP President Jerome Dix. “Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but it is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety, which is one of the fundamental ideologies of our society.”

Ari Divine recently led protesters in front of city hall to chant “I’m a paraplegic” 16 times to mark the number of times Owensby told officers he couldn’t use his legs. Divine said in an interview that Owensby’s criminal history and involvement in the 2018 shooting doesn’t justify the way police treated Owensby.

Caption
City Hall protest for Clifford Owensby.

City Hall protest for Clifford Owensby.
Caption
City Hall protest for Clifford Owensby.

“They pulled a paraplegic man out of his car when he wasn’t threatening them or making them uncomfortable, just asking for the supervisor,” said Ari Divine. “This isn’t how any citizen should be treated.”

FOP officials released a statement last week saying the officers patiently and politely offered five times to help him out of the vehicle, warning him their only other choice is to remove him by force.

“Instead of supporting these officers for doing their job, they are being vilified by elected officials trying to score political points and anti-police extremists,” said Dayton FOP Vice President Derric McDonald. “Any fair investigations into this arrest will conclude that these officers did everything by the book.”

Smith said there was no reason to continue the traffic stop beyond concerns about window tint and car seat violation — which is all he was ultimately charged with.

“The officers were aware that Mr. Owensby did not have any warrants and had not committed any arrestable offenses. Further, Mr. Owensby had done nothing to suggest he was either dangerous or in the midst of committing a crime. As such, the encounter should have ended at the point the officers completed the ticket,” Smith said.

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