Friday, June 30, 2017

Family of man in Ashtabula police-involved shooting seeks answers

CLEVELAND —  The family of a 23-year-old Ashtabula man shot by police last week is disputing the official account of the shooting.
Brendan Hester, 420 W. 38th St., was shot by an Ashtabula City police officer at 5:14 a.m. June 2, after police received a 911 from Hester’s brother’s girlfriend, who reported there was an intruder with a handgun in their home.
Hester remains in critical condition in the MetroHealth intensive care unit, his family said.
Members of the family, supported by attorneys, friends of the family, and a representative from Movement for Black Lives, hosted a press conference Thursday afternoon at the law firm of Friedman and Gilbert at 55 Public Square. 
“Brendan (Hester) is yet another young African American man who has been shot by white police officers in northeast Ohio,” said attorney Jacqueline Greene. “This shooting is a tragedy, and is another damning example of racism in policing and use of force.”
Attorney Terry Gilbert said the family is not filing a lawsuit at this time, but rather, they are “supporting the family in this difficult moment.” He noted, however, that the family demands a thorough, unbiased, and transparent investigation by the Ashtabula Police Department, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Ashtabula County Prosecutor’s Office into the events surrounding this shooting.
“The circumstances surrounding this shooting are highly suspicious, and Brendan Hester’s family deserves answers,” he said. “Legal action will be considered when the investigation is done.”
Contact by phone after the press conference, Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said that’s why the department called in Ohio BCI, under the state Attorney General’s office.
“So we can have an unbiased investigation,” he said. “We want to avoid any questions of impropriety.”
Hester was shot inside the West 38th Street home, where he lives with his brother, his brother’s girlfriend, and their daughter, while protecting the family from a home intruder, the attorneys said.
Green said there has been a great deal of “misinformation” disseminated by the Ashtabula Police Department concerning the circumstances surrounding the shooting, as well as disturbing efforts to place the blame on Hester and members of his family.
Gilbert said when police showed up at the home last Friday morning, Hester was holding an intruder at gunpoint and waiting for help from police. When police arrived, they opened the door and immediately began shooting, according to the family. 
Hester was shot twice, including a shot in the back, Gilbert said.
“Brendan (Hester) posed no threat,” he said. “It’s a tragedy, an example of racism.”
The attorneys said the family did not know the intruder, who was injured before police arrived during a struggle with Hester.
Ashtabula police have reported that when they arrived at the house, they heard a scuffle inside. When they entered the home, they ordered Hester to drop or lower the gun he was holding. He did not comply and an officer fired his weapon, according to police.
Gilbert said, “No orders were given to drop the weapon.”
Instead, the family says Brendan was shot immediately after the police opened the door to the house. There was no scuffle in progress at that time; he was holding the intruder at gunpoint, he said.
Alex Spangler, Hester’s cousin acting as a representative for the family, said Hester was not a criminal and did not deserve to be shot. 
“He is the victim and his life matters. Brendan is not a nameless character in a news story; he’s a loving son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend, and productive member of society,” he said. “Brendan is only 23 years old. As a victim of a police shooting, his life has been changed forever.”
Michael Osborne, who coached Hester on Lakeside High School’s basketball team, said he was an excellent student and a competitive athlete.
“He was a very good kid,” he said.
Further, the family objects to information released by the Ashtabula police about the execution of a search warrant at the home on June 3. The family said this has led to media reports suggesting this household was engaged in narcotics distribution, Gilbert said. 
According to police, a search warrant was obtained by investigators as a result of suspected drug trafficking instruments that were observed in plain view by officers on the morning of the shooting. 
The search of the residence resulted in officers seizing a digital scale, $5,500 cash concealed in various locations throughout the house, suspected illegal drug packaging, suspect illegal narcotics and drug paraphernalia, according to police. Additionally, three guns and ammunition were seized by BCI, Stell said in a June 3 press release.
The family’s attorneys disputed the claim.
“The only drugs in the house were a small amount of marijuana, and would not be subject to more than a simple possession ticket and fine,” Gilbert said. “Further, the money found in the house was a modest amount, like any working person might keep and save in his or her home.”
Gilbert said he didn’t find the officers’ actions surprising. “It’s typical of a rust-belt community,” he said.
He noted that Ashtabula police have said there have been five officer-involved shootings in the past 20 years and only two were black men.
Spangler said that “as a family, this is our worst nightmare realized. We’ve seen the news, and read the names of countless innocent black men and women who’ve been killed and harmed by police officers acting outside of protocol. But we never imagined that it would happen to a member of our family in our hometown.”
He said the family is devastated, but committed to seeing the police department be held accountable. 
Chelsea Fuller, representing Movement for Black Lives, which falls under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter, said the family is planning community events in Ashtabula in support of Hester’s family.
Family members said they will push for answers throughout the investigation.
“We deserve an apology, and we demand a full and thorough investigation by BCI, and we’re asking that the Ashtabula Police Department be transparent, and provide our attorneys and our family with all necessary information,” Spangler said. “We love Brendan, and we’re not going to stand idly by while another police officer walks free for shooting someone whose life they didn’t value.”

Obadiah 10
10 For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.
Ezekiel 35:5
5 Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end: