Columbus Police Investigate Fifth Fatal Police Shooting

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Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs talks to reporters Thursday morning about the recent string of police-involved shootings.(Photo: Tom Borgerding, WOSU News)
Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs talks to reporters Thursday morning about the recent string of police-involved shootings.(Photo: Tom Borgerding, WOSU News)

Columbus police confirm a fifth fatal police-involved shooting this year and the third within the past week. The latest victim was fatally shot Tuesday at the scene of an apartment burglary on the city’s far east side. The string of police shootings both lethal and non-lethal, has raised questions about use of force policies and follow-up investigations.

In the past week, Columbus police officers have fired their weapons at four people, killing three. The latest victim’s name is Destin Thomas.  He lived at the east-side apartment being burglarized Tuesday morning.. investigators say he was one of three people officers saw running out of the apartment.

Columbus Police spokesman Sargeant Rich Weiner says the circumstances that prompted officer William Kaufman to shoot Destin Thomas are still being pieced together.

“We still need to get the statement from the officer as to what he saw, what he perceived, all of the information he had at the time that he responded.” Says Weiner.

Weiner says a gun was found near Thomas, but could not say whether it belonged to him.

This year Columbus police have fired at 14 people. In two recent shootings, innocent bystanders were nearby.

Earlier this month, a woman was wounded when an officer shot at a fleeing car in the Arena District. Shortly after Tuesday’s robbery, an officer fired six shots at a fleeing car. Television footage of that incident shows a second car coming into view as the shots are fired.

Cleveland State University urban affairs professor Ronnie Dunn researches police involved shootings. We asked him to view the video to determine whether it was proper use of force.

“I don’t see anything that’s overtly egregious, that just pops out at me.” Dunn says. “And the thing is you have to keep in mind, what’s likely going through this officer’s mind for instance and  where this suspect is fleeing in this vehicle. First of all this person is brazen and desperate enough to steal a police cruiser.”

Columbus police policy  allows officers to use lethal force when they’re threatened or when citizens are threatened.

In the wake of the police shootings, Chief Kimberley Jacobs, observed a firearms training demonstration at the Columbus Police Academy and then fielded questions from reporters. She promised thorough in-house reviews saying Columbus Police were best qualified to do the investigations.

“In every situation we are looking at right now and investigating we’ll compare that to case law, what the law says and what our policy says.”

Jacobs defends officers involved in the shootings saying they have to be able to react in what she called “instantaneous” fashion.

Since 1981, evidence in all fatal police involved shootings is presented to the Franklin County Grand Jury. And prosecutor Ron O’Brien says his office always contacts family members of those shot by police and offers them a chance to come before the grand jury.

“Witnesses on occasion are reluctant to talk to the police for whatever reason.On occasion family members may be aware of witnesses that the police aren’t aware of. We will write a letter to the family of the person that is deceased and ask them two things. Number one: if they themselves want to testify before the grand jury and secondly whether they’re aware of any witnesses.”  Says O’Brien.

O’Brien says, so far, none of the fatal police involved shootings in 2012 has gone before the Grand Jury. Evidence in the Tuesday shooting of Destin Thomas will be referrred to the Fairfield County prosecutor’s office. The address where the shooting occurred is in a part of Columbus that stretches into Fairfield County.

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