by Bob Fitrakis
Channel 4’s investigative series “Trouble on 12th Avenue” aired last week. Producer Joel Chow and investigative reporter Rich Skidmore provided viewers with some of the year’s most provocative video footage. Despite the standard denials, obfuscations and wild tales told by police officials, their own videotapes tell a different story. Still even more damning is the Internal Affairs paper trail left by the officers accused of “excessive use of force” on May 18.
The series’ first segment focused on an incident involving Kevin Lennon. Lieutenant David Wood, who investigated Lennon’s complaint against Officer Robert Coffman, wrote in his June 7, 1996 memo to Chief James Jackson that: “When I first viewed the film it appeared that Officer Coffman’s strike to the subject’s back was improper. After careful review, this investigation [sic] it is obvious that his actions were necessary and proper. I recommend no further action necessary.” No surprise.
The police tapes, obtained by Channel 4, clearly show Officer Coffman coming in and punching Lennon as he’s being carried away by other cops. You can hear the words “Enough, Bob,” from a fellow officer, which brings what appears to be a swipe from Coffman towards the cop advocating professional behavior.
Coffman is not always keen on professionalism. On February 9, 1994, Coffman ran a license tag number for a Sergeant Watkins for “personal use.” He was “counseled.” Perhaps the police should have spoken with Becky West, who on April 17, 1993, was injured in Coffman’s custody. That was ruled an “accidental injury.” Or they could have talked with Tony Delpra who filed a complaint for an incident on May 13, 1991 when he was “struck in jaw” by Coffman. This was, of course, “justified.” Or they could have talked to three different mothers on two different occasions who charged that Coffman pointed his gun at kids during raids on their homes. And the list goes on.
Officer Michael Stalnaker knees Lennon on the tape. Another of Columbus’ finest, he has since 1987 either Maced or had 13 “excessive use of force” complaints. Whether it was an “unfounded” shove against Paul Collier “causing him to hit his head,” or the “justified” use of a “flashlight” against Robert Walker, or the “justified” kicking of Tim Hemmert in the stomach, for some reason citizens seem to unfairly single out Stalnaker. With all the “justified” force being used by the officer, it’s no wonder it slipped his mind to report he kicked Hemmert. His “written reprimand” was, no doubt, unwarranted. So many unruly citizens, so little time.
The second segment shows that there’s always time to take a young lad-in this case, George Sandrock-to “the whipping post.” Different officers; same pattern of behavior. Sandrock suffered contusions on his nose and upper left eye and a laceration over his right eye that required stitches. This, for not dispersing quickly enough while on a private porch behind party fencing per police instructions. According to police reports, Sandrock’s a real ass-kicker. He stood his ground, cussing out cops, despite “two verbal orders” directed at him by Officer Jimmie Barnes. After Macing Sandrock, in Barnes’ version, the youngster attacked his riot shield with his fist and head. Yes, indeed, Sandrock swung his “fist so hard at Officer Barnes that he lost his balance and fell into the riot shield.”
Just ask Officer Eric Moore, who attempted “to restrain Mr. Sandrock’s arms and legs while he was kicking and swinging his fist at the officers.” And Officer Martin Malone also saw Sandrock “resisting.” Now, anyone who saw the video saw the officers push Sandrock over the railing, hold him there, and beat the hell out of him. The Allman Brothers classic Whipping Post would have been appropriate background music. But who’s going to believe a lying punk like Sandrock when you have three officers like Barnes, Moore and Malone.
Since 1990, six citizens have complained after Barnes Maced them; three persons “accidentally injured” themselves in his custody in the last year and a half.
At least Moore “accidentally shot himself in the leg” and was reprimanded on April 1, 1990. Add to that nine Moore Macings- including Macing a man in Florida while Moore was on vacation. A written reprimand resulted from Moore’s Florida adventure. Stir in seven citizen complaints, all very similar, all found to be “unfounded” allegations. These involved “rude and obnoxious behavior,” “alleged theft,” and forcefully pulling police out of their cars. Toss in seven more force complaints, including pulling Joseph Cook from his car and putting a gun to his head, and three-including Sandrock-“accidentally injured” prisoner complaints in the last three years.
There’s still more with Malone: 17 complaints since 1987 for Macing, excessive use of force, and an injured prisoner.
And the third and final segment dealt with Criminal Justice student Shammas Jones who was videotaping the police activity away from the fray and was allegedly attacked by Officer David Dennison. Dennison’s attack on Jones was “justified.” Just like his 10 Macings since March 1993.
But how do they justify the police officer caught on tape shooting “knee-knockers”-rubber bullets designed to be shot into the ground and bounce up-directly at students and yelling, “There you go, eat that!”
Police investigators admit they came to their conclusions on “justified” Macing and use of force on 12th Avenue by only using the least damaging tape. This is unjustifiable.
Last week Bob Bites Back mistakenly stated that Judge Deborah O’Neill had met with “the late J.F. Wolfe.” The column should have read “the late J.W. Wolfe.”