Wednesday’s charges came amid calls for law enforcement officers to face accountability in deadly use of force against Black Americans, an issue that sparked historic protests across the country last year. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R), who acted as the special prosecutor in the Hill case, said Coy was charged with murder in the commission of a felony, felonious assault and two counts of dereliction of duty.
“Truth is the best friend of justice, and the grand jury here found the truth,” Yost said. “Andre Hill should not be dead.”
The two counts of dereliction of duty stem from Coy’s failing to turn on his body camera and failing to inform fellow officers that he thought Hill presented a danger, Yost said. The grand jury was instructed on purposeful murder, according to Yost, but issued a no bill, meaning the grand jury felt there was not enough evidence to indict Coy on that charge.
Coy, a 19-year veteran of the police department, was arrested Wednesday night at his attorney’s office, Yost said.
Coy’s attorney, Mark Collins, said his client will enter a plea of not guilty. Coy has complied with the investigation, providing a written statement and participating in an interview with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Collins said in an interview.
Citing a Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor that officers can use force if they have an “objectively reasonable” belief of a threat, Collins said his client felt threatened by Hill because he mistook a silver key ring in Hill’s hand for a revolver.
“That’s why he stepped back and yelled ‘gun, gun, gun’ and shot,” Collins said. “He was mistaken.”
Responding early in the morning to a neighbor’s “non-emergency” disturbance call, police arrived to find Hill in an open garage, officials said. The complaint was related to noises from an SUV.
In body camera footage, Hill walks toward police with one hand holding up the phone, which glows in the night. No sound is captured. Coy appears to fire in a matter of seconds, and the audio begins soon after.
“Roll to your stomach now!” a man’s voice orders.
Hill does not move, though he seems to be groaning as he lies crumpled on the garage floor. He was pronounced dead at a hospital within an hour.
Another officer told investigators that Coy shouted “He has a gun” before the shooting, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ben Crump, the lawyer representing Hill’s family, said the indictment of Coy moves in the direction of justice for Hill and his loved ones.
“We are encouraged by the decision of the grand jury to hold Office Coy accountable for his reckless action, resulting in the tragic death of Andre Hill,” Crump wrote. “Officer Coy claimed, ‘there’s a gun in his other hand,’ while Andre clearly held a phone. Though nothing will bring back Andre’s life and relieve his family’s grief, this is an important step toward justice.”
Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther (D) thanked the grand jurors for their service in a tweet Wednesday night.
“The community was outraged by the killing of Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man, by law enforcement,” he wrote. “The indictment does not lessen the pain of his tragic death for Mr. Hill’s loved ones, but it is a step towards justice.”
In response to Coy’s actions in December, Ginther announced that Coy had been suspended for the “unacceptable” action of not turning on the body camera before the fatal shooting, the city’s second deadly police shooting of a Black man that month. In a news release, the Columbus Division of Police said the footage showed “a delay in rendering of first-aid to the man.”
As fallout over the shooting continued last month, Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan, who is White, was forced out, with the mayor declaring that residents “have lost faith in him.”
“It became clear to me that Chief Quinlan could not successfully implement the reform and change I expect and that the community demands,” Ginther said in a statement at the time.
On Wednesday, Yost emphasized that though police serve an important purpose, they still are accountable for their actions like anyone else.
“The vast virtue of law enforcement is diminished by the very few bad actors among its rank, and only by holding a bad actor accountable can that virtue be sustained,” Yost said.
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.