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Too Many Police-Involved Shootings in Columbus?
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Police-involved shootings have been on the increase in Columbus. Over the past two years, there have been 42 police shootings; 14 people have been killed.
It was near the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and North 17th Street that 31-year-old Edward “Tigger” Hayes was shot to death by a Columbus police officer. Hayes had been in a car with several other black men on the night of June 6th 2008 when police officers approached. Edward Hayes ran away. Area resident Barry Edney says he witnessed the shooting.
“I did hear Edward Hayes say, ‘Please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me,’” Edney says. “Then all of a sudden: Pow! Pow!”
Hayes had come to Columbus from New Orleans to visit relatives. Back in Louisiana his mother, Elaine Valentine Hayes, was on the phone searching frantically for information about her son. Sensing the worst, she called the coroner’s office.
“And the man asked me,he said, ‘Does he have a tattoo on his forearm that says “Tigger?”’ And I said “Yes.” So I asked him, I said, ‘Well if I’m calling the morgue.’ Then I said, ‘Well then, he’s dead?’ And he said, ‘Yes, he’s dead.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’”
The coroner’s report found that Edward Hayes, the father of several children, had been shot in the back.
Police maintained Hayes, armed with a gun, was a threat even as he ran away.
A police internal investigation found that Officer Fredrick Hannah acted appropriately.
Like all fatal police shootings, the Edward Hayes case was referred to a grand jury. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says the grand jury conducted a thorough examination of the evidence.
“There was a gun recovered in the chase; it did have the deceased’s DNA on it and the officer’s statement was that the man was running away from him and reached backwards pointing a gun in the officer’s direction,” O’Brien says.
The grand jury refused to press charges against Officer Hannah, leaving Hayes’ mother struggling for answers.
“My child went to Columbus for a wedding and a graduation and now he’s dead. He’s dead. What happened that now my son is dead?” asks Hayes.
Since then, the number of police involved shootings has continued to rise. In 2011, Columbus police fired weapons 21 times. During those 21 incidents 7 people were killed. Columbus’ population is about 800,000. In New York City, home to 8 million people – 10 times the size of Columbus – only 9 people were killed last year in police shootings.
In recent months police bullets have struck two innocent people: a female bystander in the Arena District and a man who was reporting a burglary. The woman was wounded, the man killed. That raises the question, are there too many police-involved shootings in Columbus? Chief of police Kim Jacobs answered this way:
“I wish that there didn’t have to be any. I would like it to be none. But I can’t say that there’s too many,” Jacobs says
Richard Lundman, an Ohio State University sociologist has a different perspective.
“I am worried that there are too many police involved shootings in Columbus. They have been firing a lot of shots and some of those shots have been hitting people; others have missed,” Lundman says
Lundman says he’s also worried that, as the number of shootings increases, tensions will eventually boil over.
“The shootings are occurring predominantly in poor neighborhoods and predominantly in poor black neighborhoods. And there is a real palpable tension between police and residents of poor black neighborhoods in Columbus and elsewhere. There’s a long history of heavy-handed policing in poor black neighborhoods. I call it gasoline on the ground. And all it requires is a spark,” Lundman says
Chief Jacobs says she’s aware that there’s the potential for an outbreak of violence.
“I do not want civil unrest here. I do not want riots in the streets based on a police action. You know, the police are here to help and that’s our goal. And we can’t help if people don’t trust us,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs says the division continues to review their training procedures and policies.
The heart of the debate over the use of deadly force is this: When is it justified? Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says Officer Fredrick Hannah who shot Edward Hayes felt that his life was in jeopardy.
“He is justified in discharging his firearm if he thinks his life is in danger. And that’s what he believed and that’s what the grand jury apparently concluded because they didn’t find that he should be charged,” O’Brien says.
Elaine Hayes says her life has forever been altered.
“My whole world has changed. I don’t see through those same little innocent eyes,” Hayes says.
The Hayeses continue to seek justice.
They’re awaiting a ruling from a Franklin County Common Pleas court.