By it’s very nature, the Oct. 16 officer-involved shooting death of Ricky Ball put the city of Columbus’ elected leaders and its police department in a difficult situation.
The incident has left deep wounds on the city, but as the process of determining exactly what happened on that October night continues, we find the city and its police department have suffered some wounds of the self-inflicted variety, too.
It now appears the Columbus Police Department released two versions of its incident report – one obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Dispatch and another slightly different version provided to The Guardian newspaper.
The version released to The Dispatch in October noted Ball had been tased; the version acquired by The Guardian in January did not state he had been tased.
City attorney Jeff Turnage said the Guardian’s version was the earliest version, made before evidence of the Taser use. The “official” version, the one obtained by The Dispatch, was the updated, correct report.
What some might view as a conspiracy to alter an official document was instead more likely to have been a act of sloppiness. There is no rational reason for the CPD to hold on to an inaccurate report, let alone disperse it to the media.
The city’s first public response to the shooting – three days after the incident – was urging residents to remain calm, not to rush to judgment or put much stake in rumors.
Trust us, they said.
The two versions of an incident report is just the latest in a series of missteps and questionable coincidences that have undermined any trust residents have had.
From the start, the CPD’s lax enforcement of its body camera policy set in motion an unfortunate series of events that were certain to shake the confidence of residents.
None of the three officers involved in the fateful traffic stop activated their body cameras during the confrontation. It was only well after the incident that the CPD put some real “teeth” into its policy, by then far too late to be of use in this incident.
The mistakes didn’t end there, of course. It took three days for city officials to make any kind of public comment on the shooting, and in the days that followed, city and police officials seemed reluctant to share even the most benign information, facts that had no bearing on the investigation. It seemed city and police officials were suffering some sort of paralysis. It was four days after the shooting that then-CPD Chief Tony Carleton claimed that he finally got around to viewing what little body camera footage of the incident there was, footage gathered from one of the officers shortly after the shooting.
This week, one of the involved officers — Canyon Boykin — filed a wrongful termination suit against the city. His version of the events and the atmosphere surrounding the police department and city paint a disturbing picture.
It should be noted that lawsuits contain allegations, not proof. The claims detailed in the lawsuit must be proven in a court of law.
Even when the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation finishes its investigation and files its report, other probes will continue, including an FBI investigation of the CPD and a possible inquiry by the Department of Justice. All of that information will be presented to a grand jury, which will determine the course of action.
In the meantime, city and police officials urge residents to remain calm and exercise restraint.
Yet each mistake and misstep the city and its police department makes it more difficult for residents to have confidence in their leaders.