More than 30 protesters gathered at City Hall in Dayton on Wednesday morning in response to the treatment of a paraplegic Black man who Dayton police officers pulled out of his car during a Sept. 30 traffic stop.
Protesters outside and inside during the Dayton City Commission meeting called for police reform and an independent investigation into the officers’ actions.
Ari Divine, one of the protest’s organizers, said the officers involved should be suspended until an investigation is completed.
Divine expressed frustration that the community is asked to get involved and be part of coalitions, but then suggested changes aren’t implemented.
“Here we are again.’
Chad A. White Sr., pastor of The Word Church in Dayton, spoke outside and said the protesters came to talk about justice.
“We came together to sit on community coalitions and boards to try to address the issues of policing in Dayton, and yet we continue to see the same problem over and over again,” White said. “We are here again. We are in this place again.”
He called for implementation of reforms the community groups proposed during the review of policing in Dayton, and he also called for an outside review of the Owensby incident.
“For years, centuries, the police have been policing themselves, and the outcome remains the same, that they are found not guilty,” White said.
Whaley: Reform efforts helping
Mayor Nan Whaley and Dayton city commissioners said watching the video was painful.
But they said they think the city’s ongoing police reform efforts helped bring this incident to light because the police department acquired and deployed body cameras because of that work.
Calls for respect
During the public comment portion of the city commission meeting, Bishop Richard Cox demanded the city apologize to Clifford Owensby and fire the police officers who pulled him out of his vehicle.
Cox said the officers disrespected, mistreated and humiliated Owensby, who was in the front row of the commission meeting.
Multiple speakers said the police officers involved violated Owensby’s civil rights and called their actions criminal.
Owensby did not receive the respect he deserved as a human being, said Melissa Bertolo.
Speakers also said Dayton police are mistreating disabled community members and that must stop.
White asked for more respect to be shown to people with disabilities, noting nearly everyone has someone with a disability in their family.
“We would hope that they would be treated with respect and dignity,” he said.
The officers involved need to be removed from the street and an outside agency — not the police department — needs to do an independent investigation of this incident, said Daj’za Demmings.
Owensby left the commission meeting before it ended, and he was visibly upset as he exited.
About eight speakers spoke out against his treatment and called on the city and police department to suspend the officers without pay and bring in an outside agency to investigate the incident.
“All eyes right now are on Dayton, Ohio,” Tommy Owens Jr. said, noting national news outlets and famous Black celebrities are paying attention to this case. “You guys (the city commission) have an obligation to make sure this is taken care of.”
“We voted you into office and we can vote you out of the office,” he said.
What led to the protests
Police pulled over Owensby’s car Sept. 30 in connection to a traffic stop and drug investigation in the 1200 block of West Grand Street, according to police.
Body camera footage shows officers checking the car’s window tint and noticing a young child in the back seat who was not in a car seat.
During the video, officers asked Owensby to get out of the car.
“I’m paraplegic,” said Owensby, who also told police “I got help getting in.”
“Well, I’ll help you get out,” the officer replies.
“Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, sir,” Owensby said.
An officer told Owensby that due to his history, which includes drug and weapons charges, they’re calling a K-9 unit for a “free air smell.” Department policy requires the occupants of vehicles to exit during free air smells for the safety of the occupants and the K-9 officer, according to the police department.
Owensby asked for a supervisor, and an officer responded a supervisor would be called after the officer pulled Owensby out of the car.
“Here’s the thing, I’m going to pull you out and then I’ll call a white shirt,” the officer said. “Because you’re getting out of the car. That’s not an option. You’re getting out this car, so you can cooperate and get out of the car, or I will drag you out of the car. Do you see your two options here?”
The officers then grabbed Owensby to pull him out of the vehicle. An officer can be seen pulling Owensby by his hair while the other grabs his arm.
Video shows Owensby yelling to help and asking people to record the incident. He was handcuffed and dragged to a police cruiser. Owensby said he was injured during the incident, including scrapes and reinjuring a previous back injury.
After he was pulled from the car, Owensby was taken to a local hospital, where he was evaluated and released, police said.
Officers found more than $22,000 in the car, which a K-9 alerted to, meaning that it had been in close proximity to illegal drugs, police said.
Owensby was cited for traffic violations (tinted glass) and for child restraint because police said there was an unrestrained 3-year-old child in the back seat.
Calls for action
In the days following, national and local civil rights group have called for action.
During a press conference Sunday, the NAACP Dayton Unit said the incident stresses the need for police reform and additional training for officers when encountering people with mental health and other disability issues.
The National Urban League released a statement calling for the officers involved to be dismissed and prosecuted and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus released a statement saying the incident underlines the need for police reforms in the state.
‘Officers followed the law’
Jerome Dix, president of Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #44, said the officers acted lawfully when they pulled Owensby from the vehicle.
“The officers followed the law, their training and departmental policies and procedures,” Dix said. “Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety, which is one of the fundamental ideologies of our society.”
Dayton Police Interim Director and Chief Matt Carper said in a prepared statement last week the department always strives to improve to meet its core values of professionalism, integrity, respect and fairness, and upcoming training for all Dayton officers and supervisors will include diversity, equity and inclusion; de-escalation; bias-free policing; and procedural justice.
“We need to do better, and this can be done by further developing the mutual respect and accountability to make our city safer,” he said.