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NAACP says it will investigate after police pulled a paraplegic man from his car

Body-camera footage shows officers in Dayton, Ohio, arresting 39-year-old Clifford D. Owensby, who says he is paraplegic, during a Sept. 30 traffic stop. (Dayton Police Department)
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Civil rights activists are condemning the arrest of a Black man with paraplegia in Dayton, Ohio, who was seen in newly released body-camera video being pulled from his car during a traffic stop last week as he yelled for help and told officers he cannot use his legs.

Clifford D. Owensby, 39, has filed a complaint with the Dayton Unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and spoke to an investigator, President Derrick L. Foward told The Washington Post on Saturday. Foward said the NAACP will be working “hand-in-hand” with Owensby’s legal counsel after his Sept. 30 arrest.

“To pull this man out of the car, by his hair — a paraplegic — is totally unacceptable, inhumane and sets a bad light on our great city of Dayton, Ohio,” Foward told The Post.

The city posted a recording of the footage Friday that had audio problems that made it unfit for publication by The Post. A spokesperson for the police department said access to the raw video footage was not immediately available.

On Friday, the department said its Bureau of Professional Standards will investigate the incident, including the officers’ conduct; they have not been publicly identified. Police cited Owensby for his window tint and for transporting a child without a car seat; a 3-year-old child was in the car at the time of the arrest, police said.

Officers had been monitoring a suspected drug house on Sept. 30 when they saw Owensby leave, according to Dayton police’s video statement released Friday. After finding prior drug charges on his record, officers wanted a police K-9 to sniff around Owensby’s car, which required him to exit, police said.

The encounter grew tense after Owensby told officers he could not step out of his car because he is paraplegic. The officers said they would assist him.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, sir,” Owensby replied in the video.

An officer clarified: He’s not asking Owensby. As Owensby and the police continued their back and forth, Owensby took out his phone and called someone to ask for help.

“You can cooperate and get out of the car, or I can drag you out of the car,” an officer told Owensby. “You see your two options here?”

Owensby asked to talk to the officer’s supervisor before both officers reached for Owensby’s arm to pull him out of the car.

“I’m a paraplegic, bro, you can hurt me!” Owensby yelled. Officers grabbed him by his hair and forced him to the ground before handcuffing and carrying him to the squad car with his feet dragging behind him.

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The head of Dayton’s police union defended the officers’ actions.

“Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety,” Jerome Dix, president of Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 44, said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News.

Dayton police were already under scrutiny after Jack Runser, a man who is deaf and mute, and has cerebral palsy, sued the department, saying he was injured and mistreated by police during a 2020 arrest.

The city has been working to address police use of force, part of what Shenise Turner-Sloss calls the “George Floyd” effect. Turner-Sloss, a city employee who is running for a seat on the Dayton City Commission in November’s election, said after Floyd’s murder by a former Minneapolis police officer last year that more than 100 residents took part in a local council on policing that led to more than 140 recommendations.

More than a year later, less than a quarter have been fully implemented, with another 11 percent of the recommendations at some degree of completion. Among the latter was the call for police body cameras. In May, Dayton enacted a policy that requires police to wear them.

“One of the only reasons we know what happened [to Owensby] even took place is because one of the recommendations for the body cameras,” Turner-Sloss told The Post. She is among the slate of local candidates who have police policy on their agendas.

Owensby’s arrest probably will influence the results of November’s city elections, according to Foward. He said it could also factor into who will lead the police department.

“I think this case is going to have a tremendous impact on the selection of the next police chief,” said Foward, who is part of the effort to select the next chief.

Dayton’s interim police chief and city manager supported the Bureau of Professional Standards investigation. In a statement, Mayor Nan Whaley (D) called the incident “concerning” and stressed the city’s quick release of the video.

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Phil Stinson, who leads the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, called the body-camera footage “painful to watch,” and criticized what he saw as a “warrior mentality” at play.

“In a patrol officer’s mind-set, quite often once a decision has been made to arrest somebody, the terms are no longer negotiable,” Stinson told The Post. Police have broad discretion with whether, and how, to proceed. “The officer has many options,” he said.

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Owensby, he said, did the best job of de-escalation by asking to speak to the officer’s supervisors.

“He was saying, let’s slow this down, let’s get a supervisor here. [Owensby] was the rational one,” Stinson said.

Leroy Moore, an activist for people with disabilities and who co-founded the group Krip Hop Nation, said the officers potentially put Owensby at risk with their removal.

“You could break bones, could pull a muscle, you could snap your neck and die right there,” Moore told The Post. “There are so many things that could happen in that situation.”

Foward said that he visited with Owensby on Saturday and that he is still anguished over the incident. Owensby, he said, told him that he was picking up cable TV boxes from rental properties he owns, including the house police had been watching, when the officers stopped him.

“He felt he was treated inhumanely, like a dog on the street,” Foward said. “He felt officers did not have empathy for him.”

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