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Oxford Police Department agrees to external investigation; new details emerge on use of force incident

Officers responded to a disturbance call for an assault of a staff member at Brick Street Bar on Nov. 18.
Officers responded to a disturbance call for an assault of a staff member at Brick Street Bar on Nov. 18.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include additional context provided by a legal representative of Brick Street Bar.

The Oxford Police Department (OPD) has asked the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an external investigation into a November incident in which an officer punched a Miami University student.

The incident, which occurred outside Brick Street Bar, was caught on camera by the bar and later circulated on social media. In the video, Miami football player Devin Johnson can be seen restrained first by Brick employees, and then by OPD officer Matthew Blauvelt. While on top of Johnson, Blauvelt punches Johnson three times in the face and knees him twice in the side.

OPD opened an investigation into the use of force on Dec. 24 after the video was published online. In a statement on Jan. 3, Chief of Police John Jones stated that the department can’t offer commentary on the investigation to protect the due process rights of both Johnson and Blauvelt. During the Prosecutor’s Office investigation, Blauvelt will remain on administrative leave.

“We are thankful that no serious injuries resulted to Mr. Johnson nor Officer Blauvelt in this incident,” Jones wrote. “We also understand that this incident has caused a loss of public trust and confidence in the Oxford Division of Police. Part of the investigation will seek to determine why video evidence was not examined during the initial administrative review of the use of force by the Chief of Police.”

Oxford Police Department |
In a statement Jan. 3, Oxford Chief of Police John Jones confirmed that the police department is seeking an external investigation into an officer's use of force.

Police report offers initial timeline of events

According to OPD’s initial police report on the incident, which occurred around 1:20 a.m. on Nov. 18, Brick Street Bar employees told OPD Officer Paul Hellwarth that they tried to prevent a male, later identified as  Johnson, from entering through a side gate, passing the staff checking IDs. The employees told Hellwarth that Johnson was asked by staff to leave. Johnson refused, pushing a bar manager who proceeded to push Johnson back. The two became entangled in a struggle outside on North Poplar Street, according to Hellwarth’s statement of facts.

Other employees came to the manager's aid until Blauvelt arrived at the scene. Blauvelt was the first officer to arrive, and in his statement of facts, listed as an additional narrative, he saw three bar employees struggling with a combative male.

Blauvelt wrote that he “began giving the male verbal commands to roll onto his stomach and he refused all three times …” Blauvelt grabbed Johnson by his left arm and commanded him to roll over onto his stomach a fourth time. Johnson again refused, grabbed onto Blauvelt and pulled the officer on top of him, causing Blauvelt to become entangled with him. Blauvelt wrote that he broke free and “used three upper body strikes to attempt to gain compliance.”

Johnson continued to resist, and Blauvelt asked him a fifth time to turn on his stomach. Johnson refused, and Hellwarth arrived at the scene. The officers got Johnson on his stomach. After attempting to push himself off the ground, Blauvelt wrote he “used two knee strikes to the male’s body.”

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The officers were then able to arrest Johnson, who required two sets of handcuffs “due to him preventing [the officers] from putting his hands closer together,” according to Hellwarth’s statement. Hellwarth added that he could smell a strong odor of alcohol from Johnson, and he had glassy, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.

Johnson was charged with criminal trespassing, underage intoxication, resisting arrest and assault. He has pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, which will be decided in a trial by jury set for Feb. 28.

Blauvelt filed a use of force report on Nov. 18, where he states that the subject was resisting arrest, hostile, combative and apparently intoxicated. Chief of Police John Jones signed off on the report on Dec. 1 that the use of force was justified.

New security footage offers additional angles; officer has no previous use of force violations

Although the incident took place in November, security footage from the bar was posted to a public TikTok account, which is now private, on Dec. 23. The video was posted by a woman who claims to be a relative to Johnson, and she alleges the incident is an example of police brutality.

Ryan Agee, the lawyer representing Johnson, posted additional security footage on social media on Jan. 1.

The two videos posted by Agee offer different angles of the moment leading up to Johnson’s altercation with the police. Two females exit Brick’s patio via a gate, and Johnson approaches and enters. A legal representative of Brick Street confirmed that the gate was an exit-only door that Johnson was unauthorized to enter through. Johnson grabs the door as the two females leave and holds it open to enter, followed in by a Brick Street employee. 

A second video from the patio shows that Johnson is confronted by an employee. Witness reports from Brick Street employees said Johnson pushed a manager and got into a physical altercation with other employees. The manager puts a hand on Johnson’s chest to push him back through the gate. Johnson appears to fight back before the employee uses both hands to push him back. Johnson stumbles out of the gate and several feet onto the sidewalk before approaching the gate again with his arms stretched out in front of him.

The view from both angles is temporarily obstructed by a staircase on the patio, before Johnson and the employee reemerge on the sidewalk. Johnson swings his right arm around the employee’s head, and the employee grabs Johnson’s lower back. A legal representative for Brick Street wrote that Johnson had put the employee in a headlock. 

The pair then goes out of frame in what the employee describes as himself and Johnson as having “struggled down the sidewalk” until Blauvelt arrived. “During the altercation I received a few hits to the face getting a bloody lip and forehead when taken to the ground,” he wrote.

According to OPD’s Use of Force Policy, “officers shall use only that amount of force that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the event to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”

The policy names many factors that determine the reasonableness of force including, suspected drug or alcohol use, the individual’s ability to understand and comply with officer commands and whether the individual appears to be resisting, attempting to evade arrest by flight or is attacking the officer. Officers receive training on this policy annually.

Blauvelt’s personnel file does not include details on any use of force violations during his time with OPD. At the time he was hired in 2013, he informed the department that he had been disciplined a few times while working for the Hamilton Police Department for minor infractions.

During his time with OPD, Blauvelt has received several complimentary emails from community members and earned satisfactory or above average marks in most of his performance evaluations. In a March 2023 performance evaluation, his supervisor wrote that “Officer Blauvelt conducts himself professionally at all times while interacting with diverse members of the community.” Last August, Blauvelt earned certification for ethics and professionalism from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission.

Butler County police officers, Miami University respond

In a statement on Dec. 28, the Fraternal Order of Police Hamilton Lodge #38 vocalized its support for Blauvelt stating the “actions of the suspect required the officers to use the type of force that was used.” The statement said the fraternal order “will continue to fight for advancement of the working police officer …”

Brick Street Bar also defended OPD in a statement released on Dec. 30, writing that it's unfair to criticize the entire department based on the actions in the original video.

“The Oxford Police department, understanding the video was sensitive that night, immediately made sure that we saved all footage on a flash drive,” the statement read. “The police chief has been consistent with us to save all footage related to any police matter even if it could potentially have negative repercussions for the police.”

Although the incident happened off-campus, Miami sent an email to students on Tuesday, stating that its focus is on providing support for Johnson and “honoring his request for privacy.” The university has been in contact with the City of Oxford and OPD and is committed to working together to “rebuild the trust” in the community as a safe and welcoming place for all students.

“We strongly condemn all acts of excessive use of force, and join the calls for an independent, external investigation,” the email states. “... We understand how upsetting this is and empathize with how unsettling this event has been, especially for our Black community members.”

For students impacted by the video, the university pointed to a number of available resources including the student counseling service, the HOPE Line, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.