Fired Columbus police officer sentenced for 'outrageous' arrest of black teenager


In response to bodycam video showing the physical arrest of a 14-year-old black teenager by a Columbus Division of Police officer for a pedestrian traffic violation, city officials condemned the fired officer's conduct and assured citizens that the incident was not a reflection of the entire department.

Donovan Bever was one of two police officers fired within a week of each other this month for misconduct. On June 10, Columbus Public Safety Director Kate Pishotti fired Bever from his position. On Wednesday, she fired Officer Robert Spann for repeatedly having sex with a grocery clerk while on uniformed security duty at the supermarket.

The videos show the physical arrest of a teenager who complied with officers' orders after initially fleeing. They also show harsh, swearing and threatening comments from the officers.

“I was angry, disappointed, upset,” Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said of her reaction to the footage. “This is not what we project as a Columbus Police Department. The majority of our officers have a good relationship with our community.”

The firings followed a guilty plea by a former Columbus narcotics agent in a federal cocaine possession case and the sixth fatal officer-involved shooting this year. Bryant said misconduct like Bever's damages the public trust the department has built.

“Something like that can destroy it in a matter of seconds,” Bryant said.

Without this trust, officers would receive less information from the public and would have greater difficulty solving crimes, she said.

Brian Steel, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, said Thursday he was notified of the terminations last week. He said the union intends to review both cases to determine whether proper procedures were followed.

“I’ll smash your face in”

On February 19, a group of teenage boys stopped in the street and crossed a crosswalk. Bryant said this could be considered a traffic violation. Bevers and another officer saw the group crossing the street.

The altercation began when Bever and another officer drove toward the teenagers in their patrol car and said, “Let's talk.” The male teenagers fled.

After a short chase, the officers encountered two of the youths on a sidewalk. They drew their weapons and ordered the youths to lie on the ground or they would shoot, and the youths obeyed.

Footage from Bever's body-worn camera shows the teen's face being pressed to the pavement, causing the youth's nose to bleed. Bever roughly searched him and threw the contents of the bags in his face. He punched the teen in the groin area during the search, according to department records.

In the video, Bever can be heard telling the teenager: “Move and I'll smash your face in.”

He dragged the teenager by his dreadlocks to a waiting transport vehicle.

The boy expressed pain, fear and shock during the arrest. He apologized throughout the arrest and told Bever that he was hurting him.

“I'm fine, but don't do that again because that (swear word) hurt,” the teenager said when Bever asked him if he was OK. “And what for, brother? It wasn't that bad.”

At the transport vehicle, the teenager asked for another officer because he did not trust Bever.

Bryant said officers handled the situation poorly from the start. They should have stopped the patrol car, got out and had a polite conversation with the teens about pedestrian rules, she said. Drawing weapons was not necessary and the force Bevers used to arrest the boy was not justified, she said.

Bever's gun and badge were confiscated within hours of his arrest and he was placed on leave, department records show.

Sex at work

Spann was fired for having sexual intercourse with a store employee on multiple occasions in August and September 2023 while off duty as a uniformed security guard at a Columbus grocery store. Spann was on special duty, meaning he wore his Columbus uniform but was not paid by the city.

Bryant said she knew of other cases where officers behaved inappropriately in their work, but couldn't recall it happening repeatedly. The department investigated the case to determine if charges were necessary, but the sex was consensual and the store did not want to press charges, Bryant said.

A grocery store manager reported the sexual activity to the Ohio State Inspector General, who in turn informed the Columbus Police Department.

Columbus police officers are never allowed to have sex while on the job, even during their off-duty hours, Bryant said, adding that Spann's actions distracted him from his primary job of improving security at the store.

Language at work

Bever's personnel record shows a largely clean record, although supervisors and community members had previously raised concerns about his language in the workplace.

An internal investigation following the arrest of a fugitive suspect in a domestic dispute case on Nov. 21, 2021, found that Bever followed protocol when he deployed his Taser. But Bever actually violated protocol “by continually cursing at the arrestee during his arrest,” the supervisor wrote.

The supervisor added that he had previously warned Bever about his language towards those arrested.

In Bever's April 2022 performance review, Bever's supervisor wrote that he met expectations in all but one category. He received “constructive feedback” on his interactions with the public and awaited retraining in de-escalation tactics and avoiding verbal confrontations.

Three citizen complaints were filed against Bever. One citizen said Bever did not provide his name or service number and threatened or harassed someone while responding to a service call on December 13, 2021. Another citizen said Bever used rude or obscene profanity on May 23, 2023. The department declared all complaints unfounded.

Bryant said officers are not allowed to swear. While there may be some leeway for cursing in the heat of the moment, officers are generally expected to remain professional, she said.

Officials react

“I don't think this is a reflection of the divide as a whole, but when we hear about it, we want to address it quickly,” Bryant said. “We want to make sure we send the message that we will not accept this for our community.”

Bryant said that means visiting police academy students and holding morning briefings to ensure a good culture within the police department and providing comprehensive training opportunities, especially in areas such as use of force, to ensure officers are prepared for success.

Several city officials sent statements to The Dispatch condemning the officers' actions. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther praised Bryant for her “swift action” in firing Bever.

City Attorney Zach Klein also supported the firing of the officers.

“The conduct of these individual officers is unacceptable, falls far short of the standards expected of any public servant, and tarnishes the great work that members of the police division do every day.”

Bryant recommended a 240-hour suspension or termination of both officers, but the final decision on firing officers rests with Pishotti. Pishotti said in a statement that what she saw in the video was inconsistent with the values ​​of the Columbus Division of Police.

“Our community deserves better, and this 14-year-old deserves better,” Pishotti said.

Shannon Hardin, president of the Columbus City Council, said he stands by Bryant in her “swift investigation and decisive action.” He called the actions shown in the footage an “outrageous use of force.”

“I am angry at how this single officer's petty display of power calls into question the integrity and hard work of the entire department,” Hardin said.

Hardin added that he would send his condolences to the boys and their families.

“We are working to build a city where young black boys like my son Noah or my nephew Christian can walk around their neighborhoods without being perceived as a threat by the police officers they trust to keep them safe,” Hardin said.

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