Columbus officials deny that they attempted to mislead anyone after a British publication reported finding inconsistencies between two incident reports released in relation to the police-involved shooting death of Ricky Ball last fall.
The Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday that city officials released an incident report in January that did not mention of a Taser being used prior to Ball’s shooting death on Oct. 16.
This differs from an incident report The Dispatch received in November, which stated an officer with the Columbus Police Department used a Taser against Ball prior to shooting him.
City attorney Jeff Turnage, when contacted by The Dispatch on Thursday, said the incident report given to The Guardian was simply an early draft of the report. That draft, Turnage said, was released erroneously to The Guardian reporter.
Following Ball’s death, the city received about 10 to 15 public records requests for the CPD’s report on the shooting. Turnage said some parts of the reports were investigative in nature and therefore exempt from the Public Records Act because the Ball case remains under investigation.
Rather than deny the requests, Turnage said, the city decided to release some information. So an incident report was created in order to be given in response to the public records requests.
An early draft did not include the information about a Taser being used, according to Fred Shelton, the interim CPD chief.
“It wasn’t altered,” Shelton told The Dispatch. “The Taser was a very critical point, that it was used and we wanted to make sure that got out. That can account for that. The earlier report was just a first reaction, and then we found out some more details: That the Taser was actually deployed and was used, so we put it in there.”
Matt Kessler, the Mississippi-based college student who wrote The Guardian piece, said he requested the incident report on Jan. 11, during a meeting with Columbus officials about the Ball incident.
On Jan. 12, Shelton gave Kessler a report.
On Tuesday, The Guardian published a story, authored by Kessler, with this headline: “Why did Mississippi police release two versions of fatal shooting report?”
Turnage said it was simply an error. Any claim, he added, that the city conspired to alter the report to muddle what happened on the night of Oct. 16 is incorrect.
Turnage could not say why the city still had an early draft on hand three months after it issued the finalized the incident report. The most he offered was that the shooting’s circumstances led to a departure from normal procedure.
“Normally, we don’t create an incident report purely to give to the public so that they can have some information,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem to me a likelihood that this would be an occurrence that ever happens.”