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Columbus Officer Was Under Investigation When He Shot and Killed Donna Dalton

Community outrage mounts over Officer Andrew Mitchell’s killing of Dalton during an attempted prostitution arrest.

Community members mourn Donna Dalton at a vigil on Aug. 25, 2018.
Katie Forbes

Columbus Officer Was Under Investigation When He Shot and Killed Donna Dalton

Community outrage mounts over Officer Andrew Mitchell’s killing of Dalton during an attempted prostitution arrest.

In the late morning of Thursday, Aug. 23, Officer Andrew Mitchell of the Columbus Division of Police in Ohio was working undercover, looking for women selling sex on the city’s West Side. He tried to take Donna Dalton, a 23-year-old mother of two young girls and sex worker, into custody. After what police called “an altercation” in his car, Mitchell shot and killed her.

Mitchell and Dalton were brought to the same hospital; he had wounds where police said she stabbed him in the hand. Officer Mitchell underwent surgery. Dalton was pronounced dead. A media release from the police department, known as the CPD, later described her as “an armed suspect.”

In the days since the incident, more information has trickled out about Mitchell. According to police records in a county court database he has already made 80 prostitution-related arrests in 2018, overwhelmingly of women. And the Columbus police confirmed to The Appeal that he is the subject of an internal affairs investigation, opened before the shooting, and multiple previous complaints.

Donna Dalton’s killing has outraged her family and their extended community in Columbus. Around 100 people gathered for a vigil in her honor two days after her death, calling for answers and an end to police killings in a city where no officer has been indicted for an on-duty lethal shooting in 20 years.

Dalton was part of a huge family, explained Bobbi McCalla, her older sister. (Though Donna was identified as Donna Castleberry, her married name, by police, she went by Donna Dalton, McCalla told The Appeal.) She “wasn’t just a nobody, that’s the bottom line,” said McCalla. “She was a friend, she was a family member, she was a mother, she was so many things to so many different people. The loss that we feel is deep and immediate.”

McCalla said she frequently drives by the spot where her sister was killed. There are still women out on the streets, she said, and police are also a constant presence. CPD spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner acknowledged this on the day of the shooting: Sex work, he said, “is such a nuisance to the neighborhood—that’s why we work these types of incidents.”

The Columbus police department described Officer Mitchell as a 30-year veteran. It declined to discuss the dozens of arrests he made for prostitution-related offenses like “soliciting” and “loitering soliciting.” And it could not provide The Appeal with the overall number of such arrests this year, though it did offer a chart with 596 arrests categorized as “prostitution” so far in 2018.

Officer Mitchell faced at least eight complaints since 2006, according to data obtained by The Appeal, and in two he was found be “outside of policy.” CPD public information officer Denise Alex-Bouzounis would only acknowledge there had been some complaints and say the internal investigation of Mitchell was still open. She also confirmed that Columbus police have an audio recording of the incident with Dalton made by Mitchell as part of his undercover vice investigation. The Appeal requested the recording from the Columbus police but was told it would not be released at this time.

Donna Dalton’s death comes on the heels of a number of other fatal, on-duty shootings by the Columbus police. In 2018, there have been 17 incidents involving officers shooting people, CPD confirmed. Seven of those people died. Between 2013 and 2017, CPD officers fatally shot 28 people.

Columbus officers are also almost always cleared of wrongdoing. This year so far, at least seven CPD officers who fatally shot people were found to have been within department policy for use of force. In fact, since Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien was elected in 1996, he has never indicted any officers for fatal on-duty shootings. “There are probably only a handful of these cases over the years where it was even close,” O’Brien told the Columbus Dispatch in 2015.

For McCalla, knowing this background puts her sister’s death in context. “When I first found out that my sister passed and it was all over the news, I refused to look at the news stories for a day or two,” she said. “And then I decided that I was ready, and I Googled, ‘officer-involved shooting on the West Side,’ and I was appalled at how many [there were] this year.”

People gather near a memorial honoring Donna Dalton in Columbus, Ohio.
Credit: Katie Forbes

On the Saturday after Donna Dalton’s death, her family and friends, along with several community organizations, gathered at an elementary school before dark for a vigil. They released balloons in pink and black, her favorite colors, while a helicopter hovered above. Donna’s mother, Michelle Dalton, spoke, as did Adrienne Hood, the mother of Henry Green, killed by CPD officers in June 2016. “It was heartbreaking,” McCalla said. But “it made me want to rise up and it gave me the strength to go ahead and start.”

Other groups, including Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus, have also organized against police violence in Columbus, and now against the targeting of sex workers in particular. “This is going on everywhere,” said Dkeama Alexis, a co-founder of the group, “police targeting sex workers who are just trying to earn their living, who are doing solid work.” Alexis also noted Columbus vice officers planned the recent sting operation against the adult entertainer Stormy Daniels. Whether it’s people of color, queer and trans people, sex workers, or people belonging to all of these categories, said Alexis, “a lot of different communities are under siege.”

Tynan Krakoff, lead organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice Columbus, agreed. “She wouldn’t have been in a position to have to defend herself or be killed if sex work was not criminalized,” Krakoff said.

As Dalton’s family waits for information from the Columbus police, they’ve drawn support from the community around them. Another rally is planned for Thursday evening, beginning at an intersection where Donna was recently arrested. “I feel alone. But we’re not,” McCalla underscored. “This isn’t an isolated incident.”

Additional reporting by George Joseph.

Open borders is the new prison abolitionism

Open borders is the new prison abolitionism

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Open borders is the new prison abolitionism

  • Why rooting out rogue prosecutors isn’t enough

  • Here are the criminal justice issues that Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon should debate

  • White ex-police officer found guilty of murder for killing Black teen

  • Another white officer who killed a Black man is now training officers

  • California eliminates cash bail

  • Rod Rosenstein espouses ’90s-era drug war beliefs

In the Spotlight

Open borders is the new prison abolitionism

In recent months, Republicans have started calling Democrats the party of “open borders.” White House aide Stephen Miller has called Democratic opposition to expanding immigrant prison camps for kids “part of their crusade for open borders.” President Trump is no different. “The Democrats are for open borders, which means crime,” he recently opined. “It’s not a question of, like, what do you think it means. Open borders means crime.” Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. And while Democrats have deported record numbers of immigrants on their watch, some are turning to the idea of open borders, discussing it with seriousness and specificity. [Will Wilkinson / The Economist]

Certain arguments that were once thought of as too radical to print in mainstream sources or to avow on the campaign trail have gained acceptance on both the right and the left. On the left, the idea of abolishing ICE has gone from fringe to almost obligatory, and even prison abolitionism has gained traction. So too has the idea of open borders, as Americans watch the harm wrought by immigration enforcement. Some have called freedom of movement a basic human right. The family separation crisis and immigration enforcement generally has pushed many to look for new solutions. See also our 6/28/18 edition.

A recent opinion piece in The Economist discusses the EU version of open borders, and explains that it is not “all or nothing.” Will Wilkinson writes, “Legal entry and residency can be open to citizens of some countries but not to others. The French are free to waltz into Spain, but Moroccans aren’t.” Furthermore, some openness can coexist with overall restrictiveness. “A border that is entirely open to the citizens of a few nearby countries can be, on the whole, less porous than one than that is open to anyone anywhere who ticks the right boxes. Immigration policy can’t shut down streams of human traffic but should strive instead to “respect and regulate inevitable migration flows.” An open border between Mexico and America, he argues, could work, bringing labor migration within the rule of law, reducing exploitation of laborers by employers and human smugglers, and narrowing the gap in living standards that, more than anything, draws people from Mexico into the U.S. [Will Wilkinson / The Economist]

And in a recent column for USA Today, economist Jeffrey Miron argued that the “solution to America’s immigration problems is open borders, under which the United States imposes no immigration restrictions at all. If the U.S. adopts this policy, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.” This course of action will make all immigration legal, freeing the government from the task of untangling thorny issues of “asylum, economic hardship, family reunification, family separation, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and so on,” saving the money the U.S. currently spends on immigration prevention, enforcement, adjudication, detention, and deportations. A 2013 report estimated that immigration enforcement cost more than $18 billion annually, a number that has most likely risen since. It will lead to better economic outcomes for Americans because of free movement of labor, especially skilled labor, and lower prices. Without the fear of never being able to return, much of the immigration would be temporary, as often happens in the EU, and has happened in years past in the U.S. [Jeffrey Miron / USA Today]

Economist Michael Clemens, who works at an anti-poverty think tank, says that there are “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” right now that no one is picking up. The policy that could make the world twice as rich as it is now: open borders. “Labor is the world’s most valuable commodity—yet thanks to strict immigration regulation, most of it goes to waste,” argue Bryan Caplan and Vipul Naik in “A radical case for open borders.” Mexican laborers who migrate to the United States can expect to earn 150 percent more. Unskilled Nigerians make 1,000 percent more. Making people stay in countries that cannot make good use of their labor “is as economically senseless as making farmers plant in Antarctica,” they argue. And the noneconomic benefits are plentiful: an end to suffering both in the native country and as immigration detainees in the United States. Open borders does not mean “no borders” or “the abolition of the nation-state.” On the contrary, “the reason why migration is so attractive is that some countries are well-run and others, abysmally so,” according to The Economist. This would not change, but the experience of those individuals would change, and drastically. [The Economist]

Some argue that returning to the U.S. immigration policy of 1790-1875, under which virtually anybody in the world could immigrate, would diminish America’s national sovereignty because the U.S. could no longer exercise “control” over borders. But Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh writes: “U.S. immigration laws are not primarily designed or intended to keep out foreign armies, spies, or insurgents. The main effect of our immigration laws is to keep out willing foreign workers from selling their labor to willing American purchasers. Such economic controls do not aid in the maintenance of national sovereignty and relaxing or removing them would not infringe upon the government’s national sovereignty any more than a policy of unilateral free trade would.” Indeed, he points out, the U.S. maintained its sovereignty during the period between 1790 and 1875 despite fighting the war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, and the Civil War. [Alex Nowrasteh / Cato Institute]

“Democrats are now synonymous with utter lawlessness,” proclaims one far-right outlet. “They want no borders, no prisons and ultimately no police.” This is not true, but it is closer to being true than it was a few months ago.

Stories From The Appeal

Jeffrey Deskovic with his mother, Linda McGarr, shortly after his release from prison.
[Courtesy of the Innocence Project]

Why Rooting Out Rogue Prosecutors Isn’t Enough. Experts say New York’s Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct is an important first step, but the problem isn’t just misconduct—it’s the way prosecutors wield their discretion every day. [Maura Ewing]

Here Are the Criminal Justice Issues That Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon Should Debate. From policing to parole, this election could be pivotal for reform. [Emma Whitford]

Stories From Around the Country

White ex-police officer found guilty of murder for killing Black teen: Roy Oliver was found guilty of murder yesterday for shooting Jordan Edwards, an unarmed Black teenager. He could face up to life in prison. Oliver testified that he was defending his partner when he fired into a car that was leaving a party outside  Dallas. Within one second of seeing his partner yelling into the car, Oliver shot five rounds inside, killing 15-year-old Jordan, a freshman honor roll student. Although murder convictions for officer shootings are extremely rare, Oliver is the second former officer in Dallas County to be found guilty of murder this year. “For an officer to be convicted of murder resulting from an on-duty shooting, the facts of the incident have to be so bizarre that there is no rational explanation for the officer’s actions,” said Philip Stinson, a professor who tracks police misconduct. “I think that shooting into a car full of teenagers as they slowly drive down the street away from the officer fits that pattern.” [Eva Ruth Moravec / Washington Post]

Another white officer who killed a Black man is now training officers: In Oklahoma, a police officer who was not convicted for fatally shooting an unarmed man two years ago is now teaching officers how to handle the aftermath of police shootings. Betty Shelby—who now works as a deputy in a nearby department—taught a course called “Surviving the Aftermath of a Critical Incident.” A state website says the four-hour course exposes officers to “many of the legal, financial, physical, and emotional challenges which may result from” police shootings and similar events. Shelby said last May that a main lesson she teaches officers is how to handle the “Ferguson effect,” a phenomenon that has been used to refer to a belief that police officers have become fearful to do their jobs, though Shelby has argued that it’s “when a police officer is victimized by anti-police groups and tried in the court of public opinion.” [P.R. Lockhart / Vox]

California eliminates cash bail: Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed sweeping legislation to eliminate cash bail in the state. The law will take effect in October 2019, and goes further than any other state in the country in removing money from the decision of whether to detain someone pretrial. California will use “risk assessments” to determine which individuals pose a public safety risk or a risk of failure to appear, and instead of money bail, impose nonmonetary conditions of release when deemed necessary. According to the Sacramento Bee, “‘High-risk’ individuals would remain in custody until their arraignment, as would anyone who has committed certain sex crimes or violent felonies, is arrested for driving under the influence for the third time in less than 10 years, is already under supervision by the courts or has violated any conditions of pretrial release in the previous five years.” Bail agents are decrying the bill because their jobs are in jeopardy, and some criminal justice advocates worry that the new system gives too much discretion to judges and prosecutors, and could lead to increased detention. [Alexei Koseff / Sacramento Bee]

Rod Rosenstein espouses ’90s-era drug war beliefs: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom many liberals see as an ally when it comes to the Russia investigation, revealed wrongheaded and retrograde ideas about the drug war in a New York Times opinion column this week. In criticizing safe injection sites, he argues that “[c]ities and counties should join us and fight drug abuse, not subsidize it.” Rosenstein laments the downward trend of drug prosecutions and lower sentences despite overwhelming data showing that the drug war has been a failure. He celebrates the Trump administration’s work to “reverse those trends” with increased drug prosecutions. He plays into misplaced fears of “drug-addled, glassy-eyed people strewn about.” Most remarkably, Rosenstein threatens any jurisdiction that is considering opening a safe-injection site: “Because federal law clearly prohibits injection sites, cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action.” [Rod Rosenstein / New York Times]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Two Cops Said They Saw A Man Grope Women. The Women Disagreed. The DA Charged Him Anyway

An 11-month prosecution of a ‘forcible touching’ case in Manhattan sharply diverges from the office’s treatment of Harvey Weinstein, defense attorneys say.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Two Cops Said They Saw A Man Grope Women. The Women Disagreed. The DA Charged Him Anyway

An 11-month prosecution of a ‘forcible touching’ case in Manhattan sharply diverges from the office’s treatment of Harvey Weinstein, defense attorneys say.

One night in March 2017, two NYPD officers, Peter Cassidy and Manuel Silva, were patrolling the Times Square area when they became suspicious of a Black man they saw walking around. His eyes “were down” and he was “looking at people’s waistlines,” one said. The officers claimed they then saw him touch three women’s buttocks. They arrested him and interviewed the three women. But there was a problem with the officers’ allegations: The women said they didn’t feel anyone touch them inappropriately.

Still, the cops were determined to press charges.

The man, who requested anonymity via his attorney to avoid reputational damage, asked the officers how they could arrest him if one of the women was saying that he didn’t “do anything.”

“Doesn’t she have to press some charges on me?” he implored, as he secretly recorded the conversation. One officer said, “I don’t care what she says,” and began questioning him on the spot, asking, “How long you been out here for?”

The man’s phone, now in police possession, kept recording. In the audio, one officer seems to tell another that he tried to persuade one of the women to go along with an arrest. “I told her ‘this guy, this guy’s trying to get into your purse,’ just so she could get a little too … And she wouldn’t, she wouldn’t bite. She wouldn’t bite.”

Undeterred by the women’s refusals to implicate the man, police charged him with “sexual abuse in the third degree,” and “forcible touching” of one of the three women. The forcible touching charge carries up to a year of incarceration and the sexual abuse charge carries up to three months. The cops had no cooperating witnesses and did not attempt to find surveillance footage to corroborate their claims. Later, one of the officers even said in court that he had made his observations of the defendant from 100 feet away with “a lot of traffic of people walking by.”

Despite these weaknesses, the Manhattan district attorney’s office chose to take the case, putting the man through an 11-month ordeal, which ended with his acquittal in February.

Defense attorneys and legal experts argue that the case points to the disparate treatment defendants can receive at the hands of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Last year, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance came under criticism after news broke that his office had declined to press the same charges against former film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2015.

In the Weinstein case, unlike this one, a woman actually told police that she had been touched without her consent. The woman even wore a wire, which caught Weinstein saying “I won’t do it again,” when confronted with the allegation. Yet the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to file charges, claiming it could not prove criminal intent in the allegation because the touching took place when the two were discussing her becoming a lingerie model.

In the Times Square case, the Manhattan DA argued that such criminal intent could be “inferred from the circumstances of the crime.” To make this inference, they relied on Sgt. Cassidy’s claim that the man followed behind a woman for a block and then intentionally touched her.

The DA’s seemingly contradictory decisions in these two cases does not surprise Eliza Orlins, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice in Manhattan.

“I’ve seen countless cases that have been prosecuted on far less than what Vance decided not to go forward on Weinstein with,” said Orlins, adding that prosecutions without cooperating witnesses are fairly typical in her experience. Had it been one of her clients, rather than Weinstein, who admitted to touching someone’s breast on a recording, Orlins argued that prosecutors would have inferred criminal intent.

Data provided to The Appeal by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) show that in 2017, the Manhattan DA was responsible for a disproportionate 46.5 percent of total convictions in cases where forcible touching was the top charge. Across the five boroughs, 933 cases were resolved where forcible touching was the top charge, of which 490 led to a conviction. Prosecutors declined to prosecute just 24 of these cases citywide. There were only 40 cases disposed where sexual assault in the third degree, a lower offense, was the top charge. The statistics represent just the tip of iceberg, as the charges can accompany more severe charges like felony assault and thus do not show up in DCJS data.

The accused man’s lawyer, Andrew Stengel, a former Manhattan prosecutor himself, argued in a phone interview that the case should have never gone to trial. “The two people who matter most denied that my client touched them,” he said. “From a prosecutor’s point of view, I don’t see how the case could have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jocelyn Simonson, an associate professor at Brooklyn Law School, told The Appeal: “The discrepancy between the two cases reveals the presumption of truth-telling given to police officers, where in parallel circumstances a complainant is not necessarily believed; and the presumption of innocence given to more privileged, well-resourced defendants, whereas a less privileged person who is arrested on police officer testimony alone is often presumed guilty.”

Arrest numbers point to substantial racial disparities in who gets arrested for misdemeanor sex offenses like forcible touching. Citywide, 41.1 percent of individuals arrested for these offenses were Black, even though just 24.4 percent of New Yorkers identify as Black, according to arrest data published by the New York City Police Department.

The district attorney’s office said it could not comment, because the case was sealed after the man was acquitted at trial. When asked about the Weinstein case the office declined to comment.

At trial, Stengel was able to undermine the officers’ credibility as witnesses, thanks, in part, to the audio recording the client made during the arrest. Under oath, Sgt. Cassidy claimed that police never asked the accused man any questions after his arrest. The audio plainly disproved this assertion. It also showed that he had to ask if he was being arrested and had, at that point, not been read his Miranda rights.

Furthermore, during a cross examination, Officer Silva seemed to omit key pieces of information about what one of the supposed victims had told him after the arrest. Under oath, he admitted that one of the women told him she didn’t want to cooperate with the police, but didn’t recall the fact that she had also told him she didn’t feel that she was touched.

The man was eventually acquitted of all charges, and is now suing the officers, New York City and NYPD for false arrest; malicious prosecution; emotional distress; negligent hiring, training, and supervision; Miranda violations; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and other violations.

Though the outcome was favorable in this case, defense attorneys argue that defendants without extreme wealth or influence could be saved the stress of unnecessary cases if the Manhattan district attorney’s office were to hold equal charging standards for all defendants, regardless of their wealth or connections.

“The Manhattan DA could choose not to go forward on cases with scant evidence, no witnesses, no video, no property recovered,” Orlins said. “It speaks very clearly to the two-tiered justice system: The poor get one form of justice, and the rich get another.”

If you are a current or former Manhattan District Attorney’s Office employee, please contact us with tips. Reporters George Joseph and Simon Davis-Cohen can be reached on the secure phone app Signal at 929-282-2471 or by email at or If you want your messages to be end-to-end encrypted or set to disappear, create a free Protonmail or Signal account to send a message.

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