MANSFIELD — The state’s top law enforcement officer said recent officer-involved shootings in Richland and Knox counties “warrant observation,” but they don’t necessarily represent a developing trend.
Attorney General Dave Yost offered insight into officer-involved shootings during a recent exclusive interview with Richland Source.
There have been five officer-involved shootings in Richland and Knox counties alone since March. Two of those ended fatally.
Officer-involved shootings, by the numbers
There have been 6,550 officer-involved fatal shootings in the U.S. since 2015, according to a Washington Post database. The publication tracks fatal shootings by police officers around the country.
There have been 185 such shootings in Ohio since 2015, and 17 have happened so far this year. The deadliest year recorded since then was 2017, when 34 died, according to the database.
So far this year there have been 18 fatal shootings involving police officers.
Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation — a branch of the attorney general’s office — has opened 50 investigations of officer-involved “critical incidents” so far this year, said Steve Irwin, Yost’s press secretary.
The broad term is applied anytime an officer kills or seriously wounds someone, when an officer is killed or seriously wounded, in-custody deaths or when officers fire their guns — even if no one is shot.
Irwin said 18 of those investigations remain ongoing and the rest have been handed over to county prosecutors, where those cases will receive further scrutiny.
Of those investigations, three were from shootings by police officers in Richland County and another from a Fredericktown (Knox County) officer. Two of the shootings ended fatally.
The first officer-involved shooting came in March when two Shelby officers shot a man who reportedly shot at the officer first.
Then, on June 16, a Mansfield police officer opened fire on a shooting suspect.
Former Mansfield Police officer Jordan Moore shot Alexander D. Maxwell, 22, during a pursuit. Moore said Maxwell pulled a gun on him. Maxwell survived his injuries.
Moore resigned in August following an internal investigation revealed disciplinary issues.
The next day, Patrolman Josh Jones performed a traffic stop in Fredericktown. As he approached the car, he said Darren Price, 38, of Howard, pointed a gun at him. Jones fired his weapon, missing Price, and a high-speed chase began.
Jaymes Haynes, 39, became the third officer-involved shooting victim on July 29. Two officers opened fire on him after they said Haynes did not put down a knife he allegedly had used on a 31-year-old victim in an apartment.
Haynes died a couple hours after police shot him.
Sean Rowe, 38, died following an hours-long standoff between him and SWAT officers on Aug. 4. Rowe, a troubled military veteran, refused to let officers serve him a search warrant, wielded machetes and threatened officers before being shot in his Mifflin Township home.
BCI completed its investigation in Fredericktown and in Shelby but the other three remain ongoing, Irwin said.
Trend? ‘Nobody knows’
When asked if 50 BCI investigations represents a high number of officer-involved shootings for Ohio, Yost said “nobody knows."
“There is no centralized repository and hasn’t been, to the best of my knowledge, any study of statewide number of police shootings,” Yost said.
The agency investigated eight critical incidents in 2011. That number grew to 31 by 2015 and last year ended with 50 investigations. This year’s 50 investigations, with three months left in the year, represents an uptick for BCI, he said.
But the increase, he said, is because of his office’s efforts to end “DIY investigations.”
The effort has led to a policy change for the city of Columbus, adopted in 2020, that requires all shootings involving the city’s police officers to be investigated by BCI.
There have been eight people killed in shootings involving Columbus and Franklin County police officers since January 2020.
A study published earlier this year showed Franklin County has one of the highest rates of fatal law enforcement shootings in Ohio and ranks among the most in the nation.
“If your officer’s the one that used force, you can’t investigate your own,” Yost said.
But mapping trends in Richland and Knox counties is complex, Yost said.
“A statistician would tell you the period of time you’re looking at is too short,” Yost said, referencing the five shootings since March. “If that pace continued over the course of a year, then I would be like, ‘we’ve got an issue here. Something’s going on.’”
The Knox County shooting represented its first since 2014. The fatal shootings in Mansfield represented the first since November 2019.
Yost said he supports a sweeping police reform package lawmakers promised to introduce in April. The bill, however, has yet to be introduced.
Gov. Mike DeWine has said the bill would create a professional licensing and oversight board for police officers and also statewide databases of officer discipline and use-of-force incidents. The governor said it would put Ohio at the “forefront” of police reform.
Yost has worked with legislators, other law enforcement organizations and community activists on the bill. He also works with researchers out of the University of Cincinnati on an Ohio-specific training program “designed to move the use of force backwards on the continuum.”
His office also recently published a book on the subject of investigating officer-involved shootings. “Best Practices for Investigating an Officer-Involved Critical Incident” is the first of its kind that offers a “solid baseline” to bring uniformity to how investigations are done, Mark Kollar, the author, has said.
Kollar has been with BCI since 2008. He is the supervisor of the agency’s Special Investigations Unit in northeast Ohio.
But public policy moving forward, he said, needs to reflect reality.
“Law enforcement sometimes requires the use of force. While we’re focusing on trying to reduce use-of-force incidents, we need to not neglect the reality of the world. Those officers carry a badge for a reason,” Yost said.