Even though there’s video of the encounter, the story about an Ohio cop kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head is fake news—if you ask the president of the Columbus police union, that is.
Officer Zachary Rosen was assigned to desk duty after a video emerged of him kicking 22-year-old Demarko Anderson in the head while Anderson was handcuffed and lying facedown on the ground.
“Are you serious? I got cuffs on, sir!” Anderson shouts after being kicked.
But Jason Pappas, president of Capital City Lodge No. 9 of the Fraternal Order of Police, says the video is misleading.
“Officer Rosen did not kick the suspect in the head,” Pappas told The Daily Beast. “I know on first glance the video probably looks that way. We’ve heard that numerous times. If you slow the video down, you can clearly see Officer Rosen’s boot on the defendant’s left shoulder. That is not a strike to the head, and I think that has been misreported and missed by many people.”
The Police Union is making the claim despite Rosen self reporting the incident the same day it occurred, according to Columbus Police spokesperson Sergeant Richard Weiner. Rosen has been re-assigned to desk duty while the incident is reviewed by the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
“What we experience here in Columbus is that the union plays a huge role in covering, or trying to explain, the actions of police officers when these types of things happen,” Tammy Fournier-Alsaada, lead organizer with the People’s Justice Project told The Daily Beast.
“Not only do we see in the video that the officer is kicking this young man in the face, which is how it appears to us, but he also pulls his gun out and points it at the young man’s head. Mind you, he is on his belly, handcuffed, with another officer’s knees on his body.”
The Daily Beast has asked the Columbus Division of Police for a copy of Rosen’s report, but did not receive a response at press time.
“People are entitled due process, and that’s why you have investigations,” Pappas said. “These videos and, particularly, these cell phones, are not accurate recording devices. Videos don’t tell the whole story, and it’s important to have an accurate and thorough investigation.”
Police reform advocates worry that an internal investigation may not be enough to curb officers’ violence.
“Whether it was the shoulder, the head, or anything else, that man is a human being,” Fournier-Alsaada said.
“When Henry Green was shot and killed in the Linden community, within split seconds, based on his testimony, that officer decided that Henry Green was a threat and shot 15 bullets. That is the kind of aggression Officer Rosen uses in our community.”
Rosen and another officer, Jason Bare, fatally shot 23-year-old Henry Green in June 2016. While Rosen claims he identified himself as a police officer, witness accounts of the shooting vary widely: some witnesses claim Green shot at police, who then returned fire, while others said Rosen and Bare failed to identify themselves as police.
“One witness interviewed by Detectives stated Mr. Green was shot after he was handcuffed and laying on the ground,” Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said in a statement.
A grand jury determined in late March that the officers’ uses of force were justified. According to WOSU Public Media, no police officer has been indicted for shooting a civilian since O’Brien began serving as county prosecutor 20 years ago.
In Ohio, a lack of punishment for use of force extends beyond Columbus. A 2015 report by the Columbus Dispatch found that just nine of more than 3,000 incidents in which central Ohio police reported use of force were deemed excessive by internal reviews. Five of those incidents involved the Columbus Division of Police, and one involved the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2015, use of force was the third most common complaint against Columbus police officers, after “Actions Taken/Not Taken” and “Rude/Discourteous Language/Actions,” according to the department’s most recent annual report.
The department self-reported 474 use of force incidents against civilians in 2015. Of these 474 incidents, 89 were “Striking with Hands or Feet.” The previous year, the department reported 528 incidents.
According to the Columbus police department’s use of force policy, officers must determine whether or not suspects pose a threat to officers, is resisting arrest, or is a flight risk.
Based on the agreement between the city of Columbus and the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, all officers being investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau must be notified of interviews at least 24 hours in advance, “unless otherwise necessary to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
The agreement also allows for the deletion of officers’ disciplinary records. Reports of “documented constructive counseling” can be removed from officers’ files after a year; written reprimands can be removed after three years, provided there are no new incidents; and suspension records can be removed after six years.
Rosen’s personnel file, which was obtained by WOSU, notes that he received “documented constructive counseling” earlier this year after he failed to wear or turn on a body microphone while exiting a marked police car in November 2016.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Columbus police chief Kim Jacobs reportedly said the investigation was being fast-tracked and would hopefully be concluded in the coming weeks.
“We saw something on video that was concerning enough to make sure we address it promptly, thoroughly, and take the officer out of the fold until we know more,” Jacobs told reporters.