Special prosecutor Brad Nicodemus said Columbus police Sgt. Phillip Walls' actions were reasonable when he pepper sprayed demonstrators during the 2020 racial injustice protests and that is why he dismissed the criminal misconduct case against the officer.
Rick Lane, one of the protesters whom Walls pepper sprayed, told The Dispatch that he is upset the new prosecutor on the case dropped the charges.
The Columbus City Attorney's office hired Nicodemus in May to assist then-special prosecutor Kathleen Garber after she had a medical problem during another officer's trial. But when Garber resigned in July, that left Nicodemus to handle Walls' case, the last of three criminal misdemeanor cases Garber filed against Columbus Division of Police personnel in connection with the 2020 racial justice protests.
Walls was scheduled for trial on Monday on two misdemeanor counts each of assault, dereliction of duty and interference with civil rights. As he had previously said he would, Nicodemus told The Dispatch he officially dismissed the case against Walls on Monday because he believed Walls' actions were reasonable based on his review of the evidence, including body cam footage.
"I don't think it was an unreasonable use of force. I know some people do," said Nicodemus, who is an assistant city attorney for Whitehall. " Even if it was unreasonable, it was not so excessively unreasonable that it became criminal."
Walls' attorney, Mark Collins, told The Dispatch he believes the case should never have been filed.
"We greatly appreciate (Nicodemus') ethics and professionalism in reviewing the case," Collins said.
On May 29, 2020, Walls and other Columbus police officers were instructed to go to the corner of Broad and High streets to clear the area, according to court documents.
"Some people when the bike officers arrive start to leave the area and those people are not maced," Nicodemus said. "Video shows Walls spraying mace multiple times, mostly not directly in the face, which is how officers are trained ... Walls only pepper sprays people who are not moving."
Nicodemus said Walls' bodyworn camera shows him coming up to the two protesters listed in the criminal complaint, Lane and an unidentified woman. Walls sprayed between them and they dispersed, Nicodemus said.
Lane said he was only there because he was helping the woman, who had been previously pepper sprayed. He said it was loud and he doesn't recall hearing any officers warn them to move before Walls pepper sprayed them.
"The new prosecutor felt he wasn't going to win this," Lane said. "This has been a very complex, hot-button issue. I don't understand why he just threw away the case that's been worked on for two years now."
Walls and Lane sat down Monday for a conversation but Lane said he felt it was one-sided and unproductive.
Lane was one of 32 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit who collected part of a $5.75 million settlement from the city of Columbus for police abuse of force in connection with the protests. But Lane said his reason for participating in both civil and criminal litigation goes beyond one incident.
"What I really wanted was to be able to have additional training for officers," Lane said. "At the end of the day, I want that accountability piece, and for officers to have more training."
The other two cases Garber filed against Columbus police officers did not result in convictions either. In July, a Franklin County judge found Sgt. Holly Kanode not guilty of misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors then dismissed the misdemeanor case against officer Traci Shaw after the primary complainant expressed doubts about the justice system providing accountability in the wake of the Kanode case.
Both Lane and Nicodemus said the transition after Garber left was rushed. Nicodemus said he wishes he'd had the opportunity to discuss the case details with Garber before she resigned.
The city of Columbus has spent several hundred thousands dollars investigating accusations of misconduct by Columbus police officers during protests which began her May 28, 2020, following the murder three days earlier of George Floyd Jr. by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Prosecutor: Columbus police sergeant's use of pepper spray reasonable