Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

OPD concludes external report from November incident; finds no evidence of excessive force

<p>Police Chief Jones said OPD will undergo new training in the near future to focus on de-escalation. </p>

Police Chief Jones said OPD will undergo new training in the near future to focus on de-escalation.

Editor's Note: The print edition of this story incorrectly uses the phrase "excessive force" in reference to two incidents that occurred after Oct. 18 and training that Oxford Police received in December. This version has been corrected.

The Oxford Police Department (OPD) has announced the conclusion of its external investigation of the incident between Officer Matthew Blauvelt and Miami University student Devin Johnson. According to a statement released on April 3, the team conducting the investigation determined that Blauvelt was compliant with department protocol and did not use excessive force against Johnson. 

Following the social media footage of Blauvelt physically detaining Johnson outside of Brick Street Bar on Nov. 18, the Butler County Prosecutor stated that Blauvelt did not use excessive force against Johnson. 

OPD agreed to conduct an external investigation of the events at an open forum held by Oxford’s Police Community Relations and Review Commission in February after new angles were released from body camera footage.

After nearly two months, the external investigation has come to a close.

Police Chief John Jones said that he is satisfied with the decision made in the external investigation and looks forward to moving on from this situation with knowledge of how to better handle situations like this one.

“There was no big surprise from [the result] for me,” Jones said. “I think it showed that our officers used the appropriate level of force, and they have a difficult job. [The investigation] also took into account facts that you can’t get from a video.”

However, some members of the community remain unsatisfied. Fran Jackson, president of Oxford’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, is not entirely content with the results of the investigation, questioning why Blauvelt’s audio is muted in the body camera video released by the police department.

“We were disappointed because the decision was only kind of restating what was in the police report,” Jackson said. “We [still] have some specific [questions] about the lack of deescalation during the incident by the police.”

Jackson said the NAACP’s main concerns lie in the data reporting done by the police following the incident, and questioned the lack of audio. Jackson and three other members of the NAACP met with city staff to discuss how the city planned to handle the case, and pushed the city to pursue an external investigation.

Attorneys David Williamson (of Bieser, Greer & Landis) and Jonathan Hollingsworth (of Hollingsworth & Washington) headed the investigation independent of OPD over several weeks. Both attorneys did not respond for comment regarding the results of the investigation.

The investigation consisted of a review of surveillance and body-camera footage, previous reports, radio traffic from the night of the event, department policy protocol and interviews of OPD employees and witnesses.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

According to the April 3 statement from OPD, “the special counsel was contracted to achieve the goals of transparency and policy accountability towards achieving the public trust in the investigative process.”

Chief Jones said the incident was followed by several errors made by the police, including problems with uploading the body cam video and a lack of communication regarding the delay. Two other use-of-force incidents were reported in Oxford in the months to follow, and Jones said they handled those matters more smoothly due to improvements from the Nov. 18 incident. 

“[Since then], we’ve been making the needed changes,” Jones said. “We just have to keep moving forward.”

The use of body cameras was a main concern of the investigation, and Jackson said that there should be more regulation when it comes to the use of body cameras moving forward.

“We thought that the body cams, if they were used effectively, would help with [clarity] in police encounters, and would show some truth and great accountability,” Jackson said. “If they are not used effectively, then why use them?”

Oxford police will undergo new training to improve how use-of-force situations are handled, including a course in December with outside experts brought into Oxford to focus on de-escalation. 

“Even though the use of force was justified, I think some things that came out of this is our focus for 2024 is going to include subject control and defensive tactics, so we are going to get some actual physical skills and more hands-on skills,” Jones said.

Jones thanked his police officers, praising their work in Oxford for the community. He also said he appreciates the patience of citizens, who have been waiting for the result of this investigation.

The special council report can be found on the City of Oxford website. Further discussion of the investigation will take place at the next city council meeting, where Williamson and Hollingsworth will present their findings to the public. 

City council will meet on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Butler County Courthouse.

This is a developing story, the Miami Student will update its website as more information becomes available.