19 October 2014

Yes, Columbus, there is a Columbus Police Department Chronic Complainers List. After publishing a January 30, 2014 cover story “Are you on the Columbus Police’s secret blacklist?”, the Columbus Free Press has obtained a copy of a so-called “Caller Watch List” through a public records request. This list, along with other documents, raises new concerns surrounding the police department’s controversial inaction on phone calls from certain Columbus residents.

Two people listed, James A. Whitaker, Jr. and Bernadine Kennedy Kent, wrote an email to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien claiming they were unfairly included on the Caller Watch List. Their previous work as whistleblowers has provided evidence that led to the felony conviction of a vendor in the Columbus City School’s tutoring scandal.

The Free Press obtained the email trail including Whitaker and Kent’s email to O’Brien, and then another email that appears to be from O’Brien to Jeff S. Furbee, Chief Police Legal Advisor for City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer. O’Brien wrote: “Jeff – This makes no sense to me – is there a secret hit list these persons are on???”

Furbee responded to the prosecutor’s email: “Yeah, I got this a little bit ago.”

Assistant Safety Director Robert L. Stewart passed the Columbus Free Press article around the Columbus Safety Director’s office with the following comment: “This is the article that appears in the Free Press and is causing this latest uproar.”

The Columbus Free Press has learned that the Columbus Dispatch obtained a similar list, but with two names redacted. Sources that have seen both lists point out that one of the redacted names belongs to a former Columbus police officer.

Prior to going to print, the Free Press managed to contact the former officer. When asked why the list requires a Lieutenant or Commander to give approval before a complaint may be taken, he replied, “That's not how it was explained to me.” He has been informed that the department would take future complaints from him.

The unredacted version in the Free Press’ possession has 63 names. Nine are referred to under the Columbus Police code 16-B that denotes a mentally disturbed individual.

Many seem to be on the list because they were placed there by a specific law enforcement officer. Nine indicate they were included “Per Commander Ron Gray.” Current Police Chief Kim Jacobs placed one name on the list.

The easiest path to get on the list appears to be by filing an Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) complaint against a police officer. IAB complaints go into the officer’s personnel file. Kent recalls that she was placed on the list originally in 2006 after she filed two separate IAB complaints.