X

Dayton reviewing complaints about police actions during protests

Dayton police deploy tear gas to disperse the crowd of protesters on May 30. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF
Dayton police deploy tear gas to disperse the crowd of protesters on May 30. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

Residents have submitted 35 complaints this month to the city of Dayton’s law department, mainly about police actions and conduct in the wake of local protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

About half of the complaints were related to law enforcement’s handling of the May 30 protests in downtown Dayton when police used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other measures.

Multiple residents criticized police officers for using force they believe was inappropriate and excessive. Some said police fired rounds and chemical agents at protesters who were peaceful, already dispersing or were lawful and posed no threat to public safety.

Dayton’s law department says it has requested a review of the Dayton Police Department’s use of force during the protests and its policies related to crowd control during large gatherings.

“Further, the law department recommended that DPD provide a public review of its use of force during the protests,” says a June 17 memo from City Attorney Barbara Doseck to City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

MORE: Dayton leaders, police council say improved police relations is possible

On June 3, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced the city’s law department set up an email address to accept complaints about police conduct during the protests (policecomplaints@daytonohio.gov).

She said the city learned about some police actions that were concerning and that do not “reflect the (city of Dayton) organization’s values.”

“We are committed to a full process to investigate any such behavior,” she said.

Between June 1 and 18, the law department received 35 messages about the Dayton Police Department.

At least 16 complaints raised concerns about officers’ actions during the May 30 protests.

Some were general in nature and criticized the Dayton Police Department’s methods of crowd control and dispersing protesters, including officers’ decisions to fire tear gas and rubber bullets, according to Doseck’s memo to the city manger.

A few messages expressed appreciation and support of the Dayton Police Department.

Melissa Harris complained that police intentionally fired a tear gas canister at the back of her head while she was dispersing. Her complaint says she suffered a flash burn on her neck.

Mike Cooley’s complaint said he saw police officers “mace” a line of peaceful protesters at Bainbridge and Fifth streets who had their hands up. Cooley’s complaint says he saw a “gross show of force” by a group of militarized police officers, who he claims asserted dominance over law-abiding citizens.

MORE: Local protester hurt by beanbag round: Officers ‘did not give us any warning’

Tiffany Guithues said in a complaint that a police officer shot her in the back and the arm with beanbag rounds after she kicked a tear gas canister while protesting on Keowee Street. Guithues’ complaint says she was struck while walking away, with her back turned and her hands in the air.

Guithues said her injury required medical treatment because the beanbag penetrated her skin and had to be removed.

A complaint filed by Jason Gerard says he believes police officers used an unnecessary level of force to get protesters to leave a grassy area near a highway on-ramp. His complaint says police should have shown restraint after they cleared protesters from the highway.

He told the Dayton Daily News he wants the police department to share clear guidelines about what is and is not allowed during protests, as well as its standard operating procedures in response to demonstrations.

Gerard also said he would like to see police eliminate the use of tear gas, or at least limit its use as much as possible.

Teanna McCall said in a complaint police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a peaceful group of protesters, including some who were kneeling. Her husband was struck in the stomach with a rubber bullet and police deployed tear gas with no regard for children and companion animals who were in the crowd, her complaint says.

McCall also was critical of the decision of an outside police agency to drive a cruiser through the crowd. She says this was dangerous and alarmed protesters. McCall’s complaint also says she transported a high school girl to the hospital who suffered a serious head wound from a rubber bullet.

Multiple people who complained said they are white and they believe they were treated less harshly by police than black protesters.

In her memo, Doseck said a public review of the police department’s use of force during the protests will address the majority of complaints the law department received.

Doseck told the Dayton Daily News that the police department should provide an overview and explanation of its crowd-control tactics and policies around use of force. She said hopefully this information will help the community better understand the police department’s response to the protests.

She said it should also give the department an opportunity to analyze how officers acted and what tactics are appropriate for future events.

Whaley signaled the city might be willing to take steps like Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who ordered that police in the state’s capital city to stop deploying tear gas during peaceful protests.

“I would say everything is on the table around use of force in Dayton,” Whaley said.

The law department also received five complaints alleging that a police officer could be heard laughing when Kylen English’s name was mentioned during Whaley’s June 3 press conference about police reforms.

MORE: Dayton is largest Ohio city without police body cameras

English died while handcuffed in Dayton police custody after falling 30 feet from the Salem Avenue bridge, which the coroner ruled a suicide.

Some complaints were not related to the protests and raised concerns about traffic enforcement and a local transit agency.