Andre Hill is another name added to a seemingly endless list of Black men around the country fatally shot by police. His death was caused by Columbus, Ohio, officer Adam Coy, a 19-year veteran of the force who was fired days later.
The death of Mr. Hill has touched another Black family, leaving them grieving after a needless loss. The 47-year-old was a beloved son, brother, father and friend.
“We are embracing one another, everyone has their personal hurts, but we’re holding each other’s hands the best we can,” Mr. Hill’s younger brother Alvon Williams told The Final Call in an exclusive interview. “We’ve received tremendous support and love. There’s been more togetherness as Black Americans than I’ve ever seen.”
“I want my brother to be remembered for the person that he was. He was a friend to all, no matter what your financial status was, your living status was, he was a people person. I want him to be remembered as the person he was, a universal lover. Andre Hill, a lover for everybody.”
Mr. Coy, who is White, faces an independent criminal investigation by the state as well as the U.S. Department of Justice. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and his office were appointed as special prosecutors. His office also oversees the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is investigating Mr. Hill’s death.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther called for Officer Coy’s firing. The mayor said Mr. Hill’s death was an “unexplainable loss.”
“None of the officers initially at the scene provided medical assistance, no compression on the wounds to stop the bleeding, no attempts of CPR, not even a hand on the shoulder or an encouraging word that medics were en route,” the mayor said. “It’s an officer’s duty to render aid.”
Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan recommended Officer Coy’s dismissal for failing to turn on his body camera ahead of the shooting, violating the department’s use-of-force policy, and for failing to provide medical assistance to Mr. Hill after he was shot.
“Officer Coy’s handling of this run is not a ‘rookie’ mistake as a result of negligence or inadvertence, but the decisions … and actions taken were reckless and deliberate,” the police chief wrote in his recommendation.
Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus, Jr., agreed. He has the authority to fire police officers.
“The actions of Adam Coy do not live up to the oath of a Columbus Police officer, or the standards we, and the community, demand of our officers,” Public Safety Director Pettus said. “The shooting of Andre Hill is a tragedy for all who loved him in addition to the community and our Division of Police.”
While Officer Coy did not turn on his camera until after the shooting, a 60-second playback feature on his body cam captured the shooting without audio. That recording showed Officer Coy shooting Mr. Hill within 10 seconds of approaching him. Officer Amy Detweiler, the other officer with him, told investigators that she did not think Mr. Hill posed a threat. Officer Detweiler is also White.
Columbus police and a history of fatal shootings in the city
“This will happen again, possibly during the first quarter. There are just too many police officer involved killings in Columbus, over 70 since 2008,” Tyrone Thomas, information officer for Police Officers for Equal Rights, told The Final Call. The organization was formed to allow Black police officers to address the racism they face on the police force and to help in dealing with the city’s Fraternal Order of Police.
“The killings are happening so close to each other, Casey Goodman (shot by Officer Jason Meade on Dec. 4) was just weeks ago. This behavior is inbred in the federal order of police. You are more likely to be killed by the police in Columbus than any other city in America. You don’t want to go to Columbus if you are Black and you don’t want to have a run in with the police if you are passing through,” he said.
A 2019 study by the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission found a “significant disparity” in use of force by Columbus police. Black people were on the receiving end of about half of the use-of-force encounters—varying between 49 percent to 53 percent since 2013—even though Black residents make up only 28 percent of the city’s population.
“If Officer Coy was dismissed because he did so much wrong, why hasn’t he been arrested? Why isn’t he before a judge and in jail? The NAACP made a statement for everyone to remain calm, but they can demand that he be charged and arrested. As it stands now, neither officer in the recent shootings have been charged,” Mr. Thomas said.
Twenty-seven-year-old Goodman was shot three times in the back as he unlocked his front door, according to a statement from family lawyers, Walter and Brown. Mr. Goodman was returning from a dentist appointment with unopened Subway sandwiches. He was licensed to carry a concealed weapon which was found on him. Ohio allows the open carrying of firearms.
Columbus police released a statement saying sheriff’s deputy Jason Meade reported seeing a man with a gun. He followed Mr. Goodman, they had a verbal exchange and the deputy fired resulting in Mr. Goodman’s death, according to Columbus police.
“There are systemic problems within the police department, and I don’t think it’s a new issue. It has been going on for decades and it’s not just within the police department,” Pastor Michael Young of Columbus’ City of Grace Church told The Final Call.
“Another issue is the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and the way that they fight for and protect police officers,” he said. “They are fueled and aided by the covering of the FOP. I think that’s why many police officers feel like they can cross the line because they know they have that umbrella, the FOP, that’s going to stand in the gap and fight for them.”
As far back as 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice found the Columbus Police Department had a pattern and practice of racial profiling, wrongful arrests, lying about civil rights violations, and excessive force.
“The officers involved in misconduct many times have a history of complaints against them and fail to report accurately to their superiors what transpired in the incident (changing the facts to portray the victim as responsible for the arrest, the use of force, and/or the search),” the Justice Dept. report noted.
Hana Abdur-Rahim, an activist and co-founder of the Black Abolitionist Collective of Ohio, told the media, “Columbus, Ohio, is not a safe place for Black citizens because we are continuously being targeted (by the police).”
Hill family attorney Benjamin Crump spoke to The Final Call about the family’s desire to see former Officer Coy arrested, convicted and serving jail time.
“I certainly think they (the criminal charges) should be reckless homicide at best and a murder charge. There was no reason for him to kill this unarmed Black man,” said Atty. Crump, who has represented Black families in civil cases around the country after loved ones were shot or killed by police.
The internal affairs office of the Columbus Police Department has rarely called for charges against a police officer.
“There has only been one case brought against a Columbus police officer (Andrew Mitchell),” Mr. Thomas said. “It was a Black officer who fatally shot a White woman. That’s the only case in Columbus police history of a police officer being charged for a fatal shooting.”
Mr. Crump has seen such cases and police department responses before. “They will probably come up with a manslaughter charge. They will try to say there was no form of intent, murder requires intent. However, there needs to be something said about how they handcuffed him for five minutes after they shot him. Where was the humanity for Andre Hill?” he asked.
Additional body cam footage
On Dec. 30, the Columbus Police Department released the body camera footage of the moments after the shooting. It showed Mr. Hill handcuffed, laying on a garage floor struggling for life for five minutes and 11 seconds before he received any medical attention. The police officers did nothing to help him and Mr. Hill died less than an hour later at a hospital.
The Franklin County Coroner’s Office ruled Mr. Hill’s death a homicide on Dec. 28, the same day Officer Coy was fired. The Coroner’s Office said the preliminary cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and expects to issue a full report in 12 to 14 weeks.
The release of the additional body camera footage stunned the Hill family. “These pictures that I got to look at, I got to memorize my dad on the floor for the rest of my life and how nobody helped him,” his daughter Karissa Hill said at a press conference after seeing the footage.
Mr. Hill’s sister Michelle Harriston said, “They gave him nothing. He laid there dying on a cold winter night on the garage floor. That is not the way you want to see your loved one go.”
Police Chief Quinlan said in a video statement, “Andre Hill should be alive today. A Columbus police officer is responsible for his death. I cannot defend it. I cannot make it right. But I will do what is in my power.”
Mr. Crump explained at the press conference that the family also wants to see accountability from Columbus police and the mayor’s office for keeping Officer Coy on the force after dozens of complaints were filed against him.
The Columbus Police Department has a history of allowing police with complaints to remain on the force. A 2018 analysis by The Appeal found that between 2001 and 2014, of 20,118 use-of-force investigations more than 3,000 of those cases arose from civilian complaints. One officer, Bryan C. Mason, had 47 reports of involving force.
Visiting a family friend
On the night of the fatal shooting Dec. 22, Mr. Hill was visiting a family friend to drop off some Christmas money. He was in the garage of the home when the police answered a non-emergency call for someone “continuously restarting a gray SUV.”
Officers Coy and Detweiler were the responding officers and found Mr. Hill inside the garage. Both officers approached him from opposite sides with their guns drawn, according to Officer Detweiler’s Dec. 23 investigative interview conducted by Columbus police.
She explained that Officer Coy asked Mr. Hill to come out of the garage, but didn’t say, “Come out with your hands up.” As Mr. Hill started walking out, she saw him raise a cell phone in his left hand, but she couldn’t see his right side.
“When he came around the car, that is when Officer Coy observed a firearm and yelled ‘there’s a gun in his other hand, there’s a gun in his other hand’ and then there were shots,” Officer Detweiler said. She also said in the interview that she couldn’t remember if Officer Coy told Mr. Hill to drop the alleged gun. The entire exchange took less than 10 seconds.
No gun was found.
Officer Detweiler’s body cam footage captured a woman exiting the home after the shooting happened, saying, “He was bringing me Christmas money. He didn’t do anything.”
Anti-police brutality activists responded to the killing with a caravan protest.
The need for police reform
Officer Coy has the right to appeal his dismissal through union arbitration. According to an investigation by WOSU, the Columbus, Ohio, public radio station, several other officers have been rehired in recent years after appealing their firings.
“This is an ongoing problem; police get fired only to be rehired later on. Their defense is qualified immunity, which means if a police officer injures a civilian whether it’s outside the protocols or not, that police officer cannot be tried as a regular civilian,” Student Minister Donnell Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 43.
The city uses tax dollars to pay out civil settlements to families, but he noted, “The police union doesn’t have to spend any of their money.”
As communities around the country call for defunding the police, their desire is to have funds reappropriated to address mental health concerns and other issues, said Student Minister Muhammad. “The police are not trained in mental health. When they arrive, they are there for one purpose and that is to put down riotous or illegal behavior. That is done by a club, mace or the gun in most police departments. That is done to shoot to kill and not to wound,” Mr. Muhammad said.
Pastor Young believes making changes through collective bargaining with the FOP is the answer.
“What we’re looking for is an incredible amount of transparency and an incredible amount of accountability as it relates to the police department,” he said. “In order to have the impact intended by the voters and by our mayor, that FOP contract, that collective bargaining agreement needs to have tweaks made within it.”