A Dayton, Ohio, police internal investigation of a traffic stop where officers pulled a paraplegic driver out of a car by his hair and arms cleared the officers of the most serious allegations against them.
The September 30 traffic stop was captured on police body-worn camera footage and released by Dayton city officials about a week after the incident, and subsequently went viral. The video shows one of two officers grabbing the driver, Clifford Owensby, by his dreadlocks while Owensby yelled, “I’m a paraplegic bro!”
Owensby filed a complaint with the Professional Standards Bureau of the Dayton Police Department (DPD).
The two involved officers were exonerated by the department in connection with the allegations of excessive use of force and not reading Owensby his Miranda rights. The report also determined Owensby’s allegations that officers threatened violence and mocked him were “unfounded.”
The officer’s “pulling of Mr. Owensby’s hair may have been visually offensive to some people, but in reality the hair pulling was on the low end of the force spectrum and did not cause injury,” investigators found. “Mr. Owensby was removed to Grandview Medical Center where it was confirmed he was not injured during the incident.”
The police department’s investigation faulted the two officers for muting their body-worn cameras during parts of the stop, and faulted one for a sarcastic remark to another officer caught on a supervisor’s body-worn camera.
The report also recommended the City of Dayton Law Department and the police department’s general counsel and training bureau conduct reviews to determine if policies should be changed or training updated. There was no policy in place at the time of the traffic stop that dealt with “how to best transport a disabled subject,” the review stated.
The police department updated its orders in November to clarify best practices in dealing with disabled subjects.
An attorney for Owensby said the Dayton Police Department’s review recommendations didn’t go far enough by suggesting additional training might be appropriate for officers when interacting with people with disabilities.
“I am always in favor or more training,” said James Willis, Owensby’s attorney. But in this case, he thinks the officers should have been terminated.
“I think the officers should be fired,” Willis said. “They are truly incompetent.”
The city’s mayor, Jeffrey J. Mims, released a statement Tuesday saying that residents “should feel that they are treated with dignity and respect, and I know that the incident between (Owensby) and Dayton Police fell short of that standard.”
It’s not clear from the mayor’s statement whether new policies would have addressed the officers’ interaction with Owensby.
The driver told police he was paraplegic
Owensby was stopped by officers after a narcotics division detective told them a white Audi had been parked outside a “drug complaint residence for a ‘long period of time,’” according to the DPD report.
The two officers pulled over the car for a suspected window tint violation and asked Owensby to get out so a dog could sniff around the vehicle for drugs. The department’s review of the stop found that officers had cause enough to stop the car for its window tint and were within law and policy in ordering Owensby out of the vehicle.
Owensby told officers he couldn’t get out of the car because he is paraplegic. The officers offered to help him out, “as someone else assisted you in getting in the vehicle,” according to the report. The video shows Owensby telling the officers not to touch him and he requests a superior. An officer responds by saying he will call his superior, but Owensby must get out of the car first.
The police department review found that the officer who later pulled Owensby by his dreadlocks from the car had offered three times to help Owensby out of the car, and that Owensby admitted in his written complaint that he was “gripping the steering wheel to prevent officers from removing him from the vehicle.”
“The purpose of the officers’ actions were two-fold; to remove Mr. Owensby from his vehicle and to handcuff him. To this end, the officer’s actions were successful,” the report stated. “Minimal force, in the form of wrestling and pulling, was used to remove Mr. Owensby from his vehicle and to facilitate the handcuffing. Once Mr. Owensby was handcuffed, the physical encounter stopped.”
The review also said the slight delay in requesting a supervisor was “reasonable” considering the circumstances, and exonerated the officer in connection with this allegation.
“The slight delay in (the officer) contacting his supervisor was reasonable based on Mr. Owensby’s obstructive behavior,” the report stated. “Therefore, (the officer) is (exonerated) concerning him not immediately contacting a supervisor at Mr. Owensby’s request.”
Owensby, in a written statement and in statements to a supervisor, alleged improper use of force, that officers beat him, that they threatened to tase him if not allowed to smash his head into concrete, that he wasn’t read Miranda rights, that he was mocked, that officers delayed in summoning a supervisor, and that he was improperly dragged to a squad car.
The review exonerated officers for their use of force, the way they carried Owensby to the car, and the timeliness of their request for a supervisor, and reading him his Miranda rights. The allegation that officers were going to beat him, the threat to tase Owensby, and the allegation of mockery were all unfounded, according to the review.
The review noted that throughout the whole arrest process officers were able to help Owensby in and out of police cruisers at a hospital and the county jail, and to Owensby’s girlfriend’s car.
If Owensby had complied with the officer’s order, the officer “would not have needed to pull him out of the vehicle,” the review concluded. “Mr. Owensby made the conscientious choice to resist (the officer’s) requests to help him out of the vehicle thereby requiring force to be used. Mr. Owensby unnecessarily escalated the situation.”