Mayor: Police Chief Thomas Quinlan out because 'Columbus residents have lost faith in him'
Thomas Quinlan, a 30-year veteran of the Columbus Division of Police, was appointed to the role of chief a little over a year ago to divided reactions among the community. Now, he is being demoted back to deputy chief just days before his probationary period was set to expire.
The news was announced Thursday afternoon by Mayor Andrew Ginther, who said in a written statement that Quinlan had lost the public’s trust after failing to “successfully implement the reform and change I expect and that the community demands."
"Columbus residents have lost faith in him and in the division's ability to change on its own,” Ginther said in a statement. “He agreed to step back, so the city can move forward. I appreciate Chief Quinlan’s service to the community and the changes he was able to implement in his time as chief."
Quinlan, 54, whose probationary period for the first year of his official tenure was set to expire in February, will move back into the role of deputy chief.
In a prepared written statement, Quinlan expressed disappointment about leaving the chief's role, where he oversaw about 1,900 sworn officers, and indicated the decision was made for him by Public Safety Director Ned Pettus.
“The opportunity to serve as your chief of police has been the honor of my career. While I very much hoped to continue in that role, I respect the safety director's decision, and the community’s need to go in a different direction,” Quinlan said in the prepared statement.
Quinlan was formerly a deputy chief, joined the Division of Police in 1989 after serving three years with the Madison Township Police Department. He served as interim Columbus police chief when former chief Kim Jacobs retired and while the city conducted its first-ever national search for her replacement.
Ultimately, Quinlan, who is white, was chosen as Columbus’ 34th police chief in December 2019 over former Seattle police assistant chief Perry Tarrant, who is Black.
Faith leaders such as Rev. Tim Ahrens have been telling Ginther for months that he made the wrong choice in hiring Quinlan as police chief.
"The statement from the mayor says the change can't happen from within the department,” said Ahrens, a senior minister of First Congregational Church Downtown and co-leader of the Area Religious Coalition, a group of faith leaders that has been pushing for police reform and more racial equity in the Columbus police for more than two years.
“What is so disappointing and outrageous from that statement is (Ginther) had a chance through the search to hire one of the great reformers of police work in America and he walked away from it," Ahrens said.
Yet at the time he announced Quinlan as the choice, Ginther said he had high expectations, but did not expect perfection from the chief.
"He's not just an advocate for change, but will lead and implement it," Ginther said at the time.
Deputy Chief Mike Woods, 55, a 32-year veteran of the division, will serve as interim chief while the city begins a national search for a permanent chief.
Robin Davis, spokeswoman for Ginther, told The Dispatch that there is no set timetable for hiring the division’s next police chief.
“It will be expedited, but at this point we don’t' know what the timeline will be,” Davis said. “We want to find the very best candidate to serve the people of Columbus.”
Quinlan said in his statement that “We accomplished a lot in my time as chief. We implemented dozens of reforms geared toward accountability, transparency, and strengthening public trust. Someone else will now carry those priorities forward, and I will help and support them in any way I can.”
Reforms were indeed underway following a summer of racial injustice protests Downtown where police use of force — particularly by Columbus police — came under fire amid demands for change.
The City of Columbus is prepared to invest at least $4.5 million in new body camera technology to replace the cameras currently worn by police officers, and the city is reviewing a pool of 205 applicants for a nine-member city civilian review board to provide oversight to the Division of Police.
But when Quinlan became chief, Ginther and Pettus made it clear that he was tasked with fighting racism in the community and within the division following an August 2019 report from the Matrix Consulting Group that concluded, in part, that Columbus police have a "significant disparity of use of force against minority residents" that the city must address.
Quinlan's departure also comes just over a month after one of his officers fatally shot an unarmed Black man on Dec. 22.
Tensions between Ginther’s office and Quinlan’s division hit a fever pitch after now-fired Columbus police officer Adam Coy fatally shot 47-year-old Andre Hill at the entrance to the garage of a home on the Northwest Side where he was an invited guest. The shooting occurred as Coy and another officer were responding to a nonemergency disturbance call over a vehicle running on and off.
Within hours of the high-profile shooting, a furious Ginther reportedly demanded Quinlan take the officer’s badge, saying “the community is exhausted.” Quinlan was noticeably absent from Ginther's press conferences on the Hill shooting, issuing a statement on video.
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The shooting drew public outrage when body cam footage revealed Hill was shot within 10 seconds of police arriving on scene while holding up a cellphone in his left hand and that neither of the two officers had turned on their bodycams until after the shooting. Hill was then left dying on the ground without police administering medical assistance for several minutes, though police did handcuff the bleeding Hill.
Coy could face criminal charges from a criminal investigation underway by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation under state Attorney General Dave Yost's office. But that hasn’t stopped Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9 from filing a grievance against Quinlan, accusing him of violating the union contract in Coy’s firing by not holding a hearing on the matter in his office before recommending to the public safety director that Coy be fired.
Failure to follow proper procedure is also the reason a Columbus police officer accused of soliciting prostitutes in 2015 was recently reinstated more than a year after an arbitrator ruled that the collective bargaining agreement had been violated during Chief Jacob’s tenure. Quinlan said the officer would be assigned to a different area of the city.
Keith Ferrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, did not return a message Thursday night from The Dispatch seeking comment.
Several community leaders issued statements Thursday night about Quinlan stepping down.
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“The Columbus Branch of the NAACP supports a transparent search process in the selection of our next chief,” said Nana Watson, president of the local chapter, in a statement. “The Columbus Branch of the NAACP will remain vigilant in our advocacy for improvement in multiple areas within the Columbus Division of Police.”
Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin relayed his support for Ginther’s decision to search for a new chief of police “as a way for our community to continue to heal.”
"I appreciate Chief Quinlan's genuine efforts to push reform from inside the division,” Hardin said in a statement. “Council remains focused on reform and a reimagined vision for public safety. I look forward to working with the next chief of police."
Dispatch reporters Bethany Bruner and Danae King contributed to this report.