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Oxford and Miami communities express concerns with OPD external report

<p>Community members gathered at the Oxford courthouse Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the external investigation conducted by the Oxford Police Department.</p>

Community members gathered at the Oxford courthouse Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the external investigation conducted by the Oxford Police Department.

Ongoing concerns regarding the external investigation conducted by the Oxford Police Department (OPD) and Officer Matthew Blauvelt’s use of force employed on Devin Johnson on the morning of Nov. 18 outside Brick Street Bar found their way to the public participation section of the April 16 city council meeting. 

Johnson was found guilty on April 10 of misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest. Johnson was found not guilty of underage intoxication, and there was a mistrial on the charge for criminal trespassing, which will be decided in court on April 18. Johnson can still appeal the court’s decision until 30 days after sentencing.

Attorneys David Williamson (of Bieser, Greer & Landis) and Jonathan Hollingsworth (of Hollingsworth & Washington) opened the discussion with a summary of the report and walked the council, city staff and audience members through their decision-making process in deciding whether excessive force was employed. 

The two discussed the basis of their decision, which came from a case out of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the use of force police could exercise. The report was constructed from interviews with witnesses, bar staff and police officers who responded to the scene. The two then concluded that reasonable force was employed on Johnson to regain control of the situation. 

From there, the attorneys described the three recommendations in their report to city staff and OPD. 

The first included additional defense tactics and de-escalation training for officers, with a focus on subject control. The two also recommended that the police department implement improvements to written policies and procedures around use of force reporting, including more thorough narratives and documentation of all evidence collected. Lastly, OPD was encouraged to evaluate performance management software options to improve documentation of use of force incidents, training and performance evaluations.

Following comments from the attorneys, Oxford Police Chief John Jones responded to the report, echoing support for his officers and faith that Blauvelt did everything in his power to regain control of the situation.

“These are split second judgments in situations that are tense, uncertain and rapidly changing,” Jones said. “These are things that we actually encounter fairly often when we try to maintain public order in these chaotic situations.”

Community members found difficulty with the aftermath of the incident, including Ann Fuehrer, secretary for Oxford’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

“This is not about improved PR, this is about the need for additional training, attention to dynamics in the community that lead to individual entitlement, escalating violence and a community call for engagement,” Fuehrer said. “We are asking for improved procedures.”

Jones responded to these comments from community members, promising improved procedures on behalf of OPD for future use of force instances.

“While they found no violations of police policy regarding the handling of that video evidence, it was very evident to us before we even saw that report that there were improvements that had to be made in our police procedures,” Jones said. 

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Other members of the audience, including leader of the Justice for Devin Miami University organization Rag Banerjee, called for the permanent barring of Blauvelt, which Jones responded to as “absurd.”

Councilor Jason Bracken called the report “one-sided,” saying it ignored any comments Johnson may have had if he had been interviewed by the attorneys. However, Williamson said that with Johnson’s criminal trial coinciding with the investigation into the use of force, Johnson’s lawyers would likely have prevented him from speaking to Williamson and Hollingsworth for their investigation.

“We cannot stop engaging in these conversations and the feelings that come from them,” councilor Amber Franklin said.

Conversation on police use of force and the outcome of the external investigation will continue with the Police Community Relations & Review Commission in the future.