Report critical of Yellow Springs police New Year’s response

A review of police behavior at this year’s Yellow Springs New Year’s Eve celebration criticized some of the officers’ tactics and offered recommendations on how to prevent future problems.

The incident prompted hundreds of residents to complain about what they called heavy-handed tactics, attracted national media attention and led to the resignation of Police Chief David Hale.

The 22-page report filed Friday by attorneys David Williamson and Matthew Suellentrop of Bieser, Greer and Landis questioned the decision by officers to use a cruiser in an attempt to get the crowd to move off the street as revelers took part in the village’s decades-old New Year’s Eve Ball Drop celebration.

RELATED: Interim chief seeks to regain trust

“Of the policies from other jurisdictions we studied, we could find no recommendation of the technique of driving a motor vehicle into a crowd of people for crowd dispersal,” the report said. “On the contrary, some event safety policies specifically prohibit the use of police vehicles for crowd dispersal.”

The crowd included children, people in wheelchairs and dogs on leashes in front of the cruiser, the report stated.

RELATED: Village hires lawyer for independent review of response

The report also questioned the use of sirens to disperse the crowd.

“ … the crowd did not disperse but mistakenly thought there was a medical emergency,” the report said. “The use of the sirens, particularly the high-decibel continuous siren, was inappropriate under the circumstances.”

Village Manager Patti Bates declined to comment on the report Friday afternoon. She cited ongoing disciplinary review regarding the officers’ conduct.

She said the report will be discussed at 7 p.m. Monday at the Village Council meeting in the Bryan Center gym.

The report also was critical of two officers for how they handled Tasers during the incident.

RELATED: Hundreds turn out to express concern for response

Officer R.J. Hawley had his Taser in hand when David Carlson, 29, reportedly leaned repeatedly into the police cruiser and failed to obey commands.

Carlson reportedly grabbed the Taser and fled with it on foot into the crowd.

Hawley had other options, the report said, noting three other officers in the immediate area. “A radio request for any of them to come to his assistance … would have been the easiest and least obtrusive course to take,” the report said.

Hawley sustained unknown injuries that night and went on medical leave. He since has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending review of the incident.

“Of greater concern is Officer (Allison) Saurber’s display of her Taser in the crowd in front of the Little Art Theater. … Saurber is observed raising her Taser to shoulder level at the crowd and ordering them to back off. A Taser should never be used for crowd management or crowd dispersal.”

The report said going forward that police officers on duty New Year’s Eve should be made fully aware of the traditions, nature and timing of the event. A supervisor should also be on duty that night, something that did not happen in this instance, the report said.

The village should adopt an event safety policy for village events, including training for police personnel, and coordination should occur with the street department to help block traffic access to the event, the report said. Finally, the police chief should reinforce the use of force standards, including the use of Tasers and the use of sirens.

The attorneys interviewed and reviewed statements from Yellow Springs police, former police chiefs, the village manager and 38 residents of Yellow Springs.

Hale, the former police chief, said in his resignation letter: “I have determined that the New Year’s Eve events have so outraged numerous citizens of Yellow Springs — many of whom I know to be level headed and supporters of the police — that I believe the best way to heal the rift is for me to resign from my position, effective immediately.”

About the Author