What we know about charges against three Columbus police officers from 2020 protests

Bethany Bruner
The Columbus Dispatch

Three Columbus police officers, including a training officer who was a member of the city's Community Safety Advisory Commission, will face misdemeanor charges in connection with their actions during racial injustice protests last summer.

The officers who will be charged are Officer Traci Shaw, Sgt. Holly Kanode and Officer Phillip Walls. All three are scheduled to appear for their first court hearing on July 8.

According to a release from the city, Shaw is facing three misdemeanor counts of assault, three counts of dereliction of duty and three counts of interference with civil rights. 

Court records show the charges stem from an incident on May 30, 2020 near the intersection of High and Goodale streets. Documents filed with the court allege Shaw pepper sprayed a group of women who were walking in the area. 

More:Protesters sue Columbus, police chief, officers, citing injuries

Walls is charged with two counts each of assault, dereliction of duty and interference with civil rights. Court records show those charges stem from an incident on May 29, 2020 at the intersection of Broad and High streets, where Walls is accused of pepper spraying two people who were on a sidewalk. 

Kanode is charged with one count of falsification and one count of dereliction of duty. She is accused in court records of falsifying a use-of-force report regarding an arrest that took place on May 30, 2020, at the intersection of Broad and High streets.

On body camera video, Kanode is heard saying the person who was arrested had thrown an officer to the ground, and indicated that in her report. However, video footage does not show this occurring, according to court records. 

More:Judge nears decision on request for changes following Columbus police response to protests

Watch: Video of arrest from Dispatch reporter on scene of arrest

Shaw being 'scapegoated,' attorney says

Shaw, a 21-year veteran was selected by Mayor Andrew J. Ginther as a member of the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission that issued recommendations, including for a civilian review board, in early 2020. She also teaches at the Columbus police academy. 

Interim Columbus police Chief Michael Woods said all three officers will be on "relieved of duty" status, meaning they will be paid to work on desk duty, in accordance with standard procedure until the cases against them are resolved.

The charges come after an investigation by Richard Wozniak and Kathleen Garber into alleged criminal misconduct by officers during protests in the summer of 2020. 

Wozniak, a retired FBI agent, and Garber, a former Franklin County prosecutor, were hired by the city, but were working as independent contractors. The charges all stem from incidents occurring within the first several days of protests that occurred in downtown Columbus in the wake of the murder of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. 

More:One year after George Floyd: How far has Columbus come and how far is there still to go?

Mark Collins, a defense attorney who will represent the three officers, said that he was made aware that misdemeanor charges will be filed, but he had not yet been told the charges. 

Collins said Shaw has testified for the City of Columbus in federal court in use of force cases. 

"She is one of the best, if not the best officer I've ever dealt with on either side of the aisle," Collins said. "It is ridiculous she is being scapegoated by this prosecution." 

Kanode, a 17-year veteran, and Walls, a 27-year veteran, both will also be represented by Collins, but he said he has not met yet with them. 

More:Cost of probe into alleged Columbus police misconduct during protests now more than $615,000

A release from the independent investigation team said the City Attorney's office had "prosecuted nearly 100 civilians for violent, aggressive behavior during the protests which included charges of rioting, criminal damaging, and threatening behavior towards police." Charges against nearly 60 protesters, particularly those charged with curfew violations, were filed but ultimately dismissed by City Attorney Zach Klein.

More:Complaint alleges investigators hired by Columbus using unconstitutional tactics to force officer interviews in police probe

Investigation into police protest responses led to interview disputes

Wozniak and Garber had attempted to get Columbus police officers to participate in interviews multiple times since their investigation began, including attempts to use investigative subpoenas and Garrity warnings. 

The investigative subpoenas were withdrawn by Garber with an agreement from the union's attorneys to withdraw a motion for a restraining order. The city agreed to not conduct officer interviews under the Garrity warnings until the arbitrator made a decision on the contractual issues, effectively suspending those orders.

Garber said Wednesday that she is awaiting an arbitration hearing to determine whether officers will be forced to give interviews under Garrity orders as witnesses related to about 15 ongoing investigations. She said no date has been set yet, but attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, which represents Columbus police, have agreed to an expedited hearing and decision by the arbitrator. 

More:Mayor Ginther declined police interview about golfing weeks before saying police should talk

A group of protesters has a pending federal lawsuit against a number of officers, including Walls and Kanode, seeking damages for actions related to handling of the protests. 

A federal judge granted a protection order in late April that barred police from using pepper spray and non-lethal weapons to break up peaceful protests. In his ruling, the judge said police officers had "run amok" in handling the unrest. 

“I think what the city is doing is the right thing,” said Frederick M. Gittes, one of the attorneys representing the more than two dozen plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging police brutality during protests last year. “I’m glad they’re doing it. It’s the only way ultimately that we will begin to make inroads in the culture in that department, the culture of racism.”

Gittes is representing the protesters, which include at least one organizer of the large protest events that occurred in late May and early June Downtown. 

Kanode and Walls are among the officers named in that lawsuit, with video footage included in filings in federal court in Columbus of the incidents described in affidavits released by city officials as part of charges announced Wednesday.

Gittes said criminal prosecutions against Columbus officers for unlawful use of force are rare.

“Dozens, plural, of Columbus police officers felt they could shoot people, beat up people, gas people, the list goes on, during the protests and not have to worry about (prosecution), even though it was being videoed. That’s how bad it’s gotten,” he said.

Gittes said Wednesday that he was hopeful the charges announced Wednesday would lead to convictions.

“We’ve already demonstrated in court the evidence, at least for two of them (Kanode and Walls), of their unnecessary, excessive violence,” he said. “We already have one judge who has acknowledged there is strong evidence that they violated the law.”

Garber said she and Wozniak, who was hired as a special investigator — giving him authority to file the charges — conferred about the evidence and in several cases have been able to exonerate officers.

"I would have loved to have looked at the investigations and said there’s no criminal misconduct," she said. "Honestly, I can say that most of the officers acted appropriately and I’m really happy to know that and support all those officers. We’re simply following the evidence where it led with respect to these events, and (the charges are) based solely on the officers’ actions, nothing more and nothing less than that." 

In corroboration with the investigation by Wozniak and Garber, the Columbus law firm BakerHostetleinvestigated potential violations of police policy and procedure. Forty-nine reports were generated out of that with only eight resulting in findings of misconduct and only one of those, involving Walls, resulting in any discipline.

More:Investigation into possible misconduct by Columbus police during protests finds little

Walls was given documented constructive counseling for failing to file the proper paperwork for an incident during the protests where he used pepper spray. 

The city also employed the services of the Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs and Carter Stewart, who was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio from 2009-2016, to conduct an after-action review of the overall response to protests. That report determined that the city and the police division were inadequately prepared for the scale of the protests. 

Dispatch reporter Marc Kovac contributed to this report.