CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The leader of the union that represents Cincinnati police is in Washington D.C. pushing to end the federal investigation into whether an officer violated the civil rights of an 11-year-old girl by shocking her with a Taser.
Sgt. Dan Hils has joined the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police and other FOP heads from across the nation for the FOP’s annual day on Capitol Hill, according to a post he wrote Tuesday on Support The Blue in Cincy Facebook page.
Law enforcement leaders meet with their congressional delegations to lobby for their issues.
That includes the Social Security Fairness Act to eliminate the Windfall and Government Pension Offset, one that reduces social security benefits of retired employees by up to 60 percent in nine states including Ohio: “This is our top priority,” wrote National FOP President Chuck Canterbury in another post on the page.
The Protect and Serve Act that would enhance penalties for ambushing law enforcement is another concern.
While Hils also carries to those issues in his heart, the fate of one of his fellow officers has a place there as well.
“I also am here. I will also be pushing to end the criminal investigation of Officer Kevin Brown," he wrote when he shared Canterbury’s post on the Support the Blue in Cincy page.
In an interview from Washington Tuesday morning, Hils said he is scheduled to meet this afternoon and evening with U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot and U.S. Senator Rob Portman.
He is set to talk with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on Wednesday.
Hils calls the investigation, which potentially could result in criminal civil rights charges for Brown, “unwarranted. It’s “very disheartening” and “threatening” not only to Brown, but for all officers.
"I'm going to say that we, as the FOP, are very disappointed in this investigation that's occurring," Hils said in a phone interview this morning from Washington D.C.
“It puts tremendous strain on not only Officer Brown, but all our officers who know that, yes, their use of force will be questioned and reviewed by the agency at times, but just because it’s being questioned, it will now also be handed off to federal authorities for review and throw them into a potential civil rights criminal charge. It’s very intimidating to our folks. That’s a whole new ball game.”
Chabot “promised to look into the unjust federal investigation of Officer Kevin Brown,” Hils wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday night after meeting with the West Side congressman.
After seeing our story Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Brown’s office reached out to FOX19 NOW and stressed the purpose of Wednesday’s meeting is to discuss the Social Security Fairness Act, the Protect and Serve Act, Medicare and funding for Ohio law enforcement.
The senator will not discuss the investigation, the spokesperson told FOX19 NOW.
“Our office absolutely will not, and would not ever, intervene to stop an ongoing Civil Rights investigation at the Department of Justice. Senator Brown is scheduled to meet with a group of several Ohio officers who are in town as part of their annual day on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Social Security Fairness Act, the Protect and Serve Act, Medicare and funding for Ohio law enforcement, not this investigation," Spokesperson Jennifer Donohue said in a statement.
However, Hils announced Wednesday after meeting with Brown, the senator agreed to check into it.
“Ch.19 reported that a staffer stated that Senator Sherrod Brown would not discuss the Civil rights investigation into Officer Kevin Brown. Senator Brown originally avoided the issue, but as I pressed he stated that he would look into the matter,” Hils wrote on Facebook.
“We will be home tomorrow about noon. The leaders of all of the unions are meeting with the manager in the afternoon. My guess is we will be hearing how little money the city has. The same story each contract year.”
The senator provided the following statement to FOX19 NOW after meeting with FOP leaders including Hils:
“We had a nice meeting with members of the Ohio FOP to discuss the Social Security Fairness Act, the Protect and Serve Act, Medicare and funding for Ohio law enforcement, not this investigation. As I told Mr. Hils when he tried to raise the issue during our meeting, I will not, nor would I ever, intervene an in ongoing Civil Rights investigation, especially one in which potentially lethal force was used against a child.”
The outspoken union leader announced last month federal authorities had launched the probe after he was alerted when the FBI asked for voluntary interview of officers on scene when Brown arrested the girl, Donesha Gowdy, who now is 12, at a Kroger store in Spring Grove Village on Aug. 6.
At the time, the officer - who was working on off duty security detail at Kroger - was trying to stop her from fleeing a shoplifting offense after seeing her and other girls stealing snacks.
The Taser barbs hit the 90-pound, 4′11″ tall girl in the back, and she fell to the ground without breaking her fall, according to an attorney for her family, Al Gerhardstein.
The officer arrested her on charges of theft and obstruction of official business, but those were dropped at the request of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
In October, Gerhardstein announced the city of Cincinnati and Kroger Company agreed to pay a total of $240,000 to settle the claim of excessive force by the child.
He also said the girl wrote an apology to the store and released a copy of the note.
Gerhardstein said the settlement money would be spent on therapy for the girl and her sister, who witnessed the incident, and the girl’s education.
When the federal investigation as revealed last month, he released a statement saying the family would cooperate if contacted.
“But any investigation,”Gerhardstein said at the time, "should also review the broader systematic issue of excessive force against juveniles generally and the extreme racial disparity regarding juvenile arrests.”
It’s not clear how long the probe will take, but they typically are not short.
It took nearly three years for federal officials to review the fatal police shooting of a man carrying a rifle from a store shelf inside a Beavercreek Walmart. The Justice Department announced in July 2017 there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges in the 2014 shooting.
More recently, it’s been nearly two years now since the U.S. Attorney Office of Southern Ohio launched a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Sam DuBose in July 2015 by then-University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing.
It’s not clear when that case will wrap up, either.
Federal authorities, who are routinely tight-lipped about investigations, have said little on the DuBose investigation in the past year other than to confirm it’s still ongoing. And they have yet to confirm the one into the girl’s Tasing.
Brown’s lawyer, Zach Gottesman, said Tuesday federal authorities have not contacted Brown so far - or conducted any interviews he’s heard of with anyone else or taken any statements.
“We are waiting to hear from them," Gottesman said. “We are waiting to hear what they want.”
If the Department of Justice wants to speak with Brown, Gottesman said Brown is willing to sit down and give them his side of the story.
“His use of force was within the department guidelines that were in effect at the time and consistent with his training,” Gottesman said.
We reached out to Cincinnati police for comment on the federal investigation and the officer’s current work status.
“Good morning, Currently, no one is available for your interview,” wrote Sgt. Eric Franz in response.
Gottesman said Brown has returned to active duty.
At the time of the incident, Police Chief Eliot Isaac said he was “extremely concerned" about the use of force on the girl.
Last month, Cincinnati police officials changed their use of force policy to include new guidelines for Taser use in light of the incident. They include:
- “Removal of the specific, allowable age range (7-70 years of age).....”
- “Officers should avoid using the TASER on persons who reasonably appear to be, or are known to be, young children, elderly, medically infirm, pregnant, or users of a cardiac pacemaker”
- “Officers are not prohibited from using the TASER on such persons, but use is limited to those exceptional circumstances where the potential benefit of using the TASER (i.e., injury reduction) reasonably outweighs the risks and concerns.”
Brown was found to be in violation of several Cincinnati Police Department rules and regulations, police records show.
He received several punishments in October, including a suspension from duty.
A use of force report found the officer violated four policies when he shocked the girl:
- The department’s rules and regulations related to prejudice by telling the girl: “You know sweetheart, this is why there’s no grocery stores in the black community, because of all this going on."
- He did not activate his body camera until after he deployed his Taser.
- He did not warn the child he was going to use the device.
- The incident was not serious enough to deploy a Taser. Officers are told to use the least amount of force necessary.
We are also seeking comment about the investigation from the city manager and the mayor.
If we hear back, we will update this story.
A GoFundMe account is open for Brown, a veteran officer. It has raised $6,494 toward a $50,000 goal.
“Given the media attention of this and the reaction from said media, the mayors office and city administration/police department, Officer Brown has since become scrutinized for simply doing his job,” the GoFundMe page reads.
“He has been taken off street patrol, placed on desk duty and stripped from working details and is being punished for doing what he was hired to do by the Kroger Company.”