Columbus pays $225,000 settlement to man beaten, stun-gunned by police during 2017 arrest
The city of Columbus will pay a $225,000 settlement to avoid a potential second federal court trial on claims of excessive use of force against a wanted man by city police officers, who beat him repeatedly and used a stun gun on him 11 times during an arrest at a Driving Park convenience store in 2017 that was captured on cellphone video.
The City Council approved the settlement 7-0 at its meeting Monday — despite an internal affairs investigation that found the officers were justified and a federal jury that determined in 2021 the officers did not violate his civil rights — because a federal judge last year determined the jury made a mistake in finding the city totally not responsible and ruled that the man could refile for a new trial.
Timothy D. Davis, of the South Side, was 31 years old in September 2017 when Columbus police sought to arrest him on several outstanding warrants after he was spotted inside a Driving Park convenience store. Police said officers had been injured during previous attempts to arrest Davis, and one of the warrants was for a 2016 incident in which an officer was struck near an eye with a handcuff bracelet.
Under the settlement, the city and the eight defendant officers in the case — Matthew Baker, Sean Connair, Eric Everhart, Anthony Johnson, LeVon Morefield, Robert Reffitt, Ryan Steele and Alan Bennett — will make no admission of liability and will be released from all claims connected to the incident. The settlement avoids another trial, along with potential punitive damages and attorney fees.
The parties agreed to the terms of a settlement in December, and the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Public Safety recommended council approval of the agreement Monday.
Citing the fact that the Columbus settlement comes in the wake of the disturbing graphic video released Friday and the arrests or suspensions of a group of Memphis police officers for the fatal beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols resulting from a reported traffic stop, Council member Shayla Favor said, "I think we would be remiss if we didn't ask what policies have been implemented (by Columbus police) to ensure that a situation does not occur again like this one, especially given the climate" nationally.
Assistant Safety Director Robert Stewart said he would look into it.
"You know, you see eight officers and one individual, I think it probably does raise some red flags with folks," Favor said.
Favor, who also raised a question about "qualified immunity" for police officers, asked Public Safety to follow up with a written response to council concerning policies and training.
Davis had sued the city and eight police officers in federal court, claiming the Division of Police fails to properly train, supervise, monitor, counsel or discipline officers who use excessive or unreasonable force against civilians, in particular black residents.
A federal jury ruled in favor of police in 2021, but Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley of U.S. District Court in Columbus last September ordered a partial retrial, saying a complete jury verdict in favor of the officers "is against the clear weight of the evidence."
"The evidence in this case was disturbing. (Columbus officers) beat and electrocuted (Davis with a stun gun), very nearly to death, even though he was unarmed, outnumbered, and generally contained at the end of the arrest," Marbley wrote.
A citizen's cellphone video showed officers using profanity and one officer punching him repeatedly during a struggle to arrest Davis, who resisted police instructions to put his hands behind his back. Two plainclothes officers initially attempted to arrest, but more arrived as Davis struggled and resisted.
Marbley found that as more officers arrived on the scene, the police should have reasonably been expected to reduce the amount of force being used against Davis.
"Once Plaintiff was pinned to the ground by four, five and six officers — versus two, earlier in the arrest — the risk of flight and ability to resist all but vanished," Marbley wrote. He noted that police used the stun gun on Davis for a combined 55 seconds, which exceeds the manufacturer's standard of 15 seconds due to risk of internal damage. Marbley also said that officers never gave Davis a chance to comply with their demands toward the end of the incident.
Marbley found that any reasonable jury "should have concluded that the force utilized was greater than necessary" later in the arrest as officers used a Taser on Davis 11 times and continued to hit Davis after he was subdued and while the stun gun was being used.
"The force never relented to give (Davis) a reasonable chance to comply. (Davis) had as little as one second between Officer Bennett’s Taser cycles in which to regain control of his muscles and comply with commands. Similarly, Officer Baker left Plaintiff less than one second between knee strikes in which to give up his hands," Marbley stated in the ruling.
The initial officers involved were part of a "Violent Crime Working Group" that had been looking for Davis. The incident in Memphis involved a special "Scorpions" task force.
After the incident with Davis, a police bodycam video captured another officer, Joseph Bogard, who was not involved, talking to another officer about what had happened.
Bogard said he would have told Davis, "I'm going to for real arm-bar you, and then when that still doesn't work, I'm going to choke the life out of you. Then while you're drooling on yourself, I'll handcuff you."
He was reprimanded for conduct unbecoming an officer.
Davis was ultimately convicted of the 2016 assault on a police officer and sentenced in 2018 to 30 months in prison.
(Editor's note: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Public Safety official at the meeting Monday.)
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus pays $225k to settle any claims over 2017 police arrest