COLUMBUS, Ohio – The indictment of the white Ohio police officer who shot and killed Andre Hill, a Black man, was cheered by Hill's family, even as data shows and experts conclude that the next step — securing a conviction — will be difficult, if not impossible.
Former Columbus Police Officer Adam Coy was indicted Wednesday on a murder charge by a grand jury following an Ohio Attorney General's Office investigation. The charges faced by Coy, a 19-year veteran of the force, also include failure to use his body camera and failure to tell the other officer he believed Hill presented a danger.
Coy's initial court appearance is scheduled for Friday afternoon, where his attorney said he will plead not guilty and fight the charges.
Since 2005, at least 130 nonfederal law enforcement officers such as state troopers, deputy sheriffs and police officers have been arrested nationally on murder or manslaughter charges resulting from an on-duty shooting, according to data compiled by Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and former police officer in Virginia and New Hampshire.
Of the 96 cases completed to date, 44 resulted in convictions and 52 in acquittals, Stinson's data shows. Of the 44 convictions, 19 officers pleaded guilty and 25 were convicted by a jury.
Only seven officers were convicted of murder, with others convicted of lesser charges such as involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide, Stinson's data shows.
In total, only 46% of cases of on-duty police shootings where murder or manslaughter charges were brought over the last 16 years ended up in convictions.
The overall rate for murder convictions among the general population is about 70%, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data.
Hill’s family welcomed Coy's indictment while acknowledging that a conviction on all four charges — murder, felonious assault and two counts of dereliction of duty — is what really matters.
“I trust that the process will continue forward because we’re happy. I mean, it made my day yesterday. I’m happy about it,” Shawna Barrett, Hill’s sister, said Thursday. “But as we stated before, this is not the end we’re here for the long run, however long it takes.”
Coy and another officer, Amy Detweiler, had responded to a neighbor’s nonemergency call after 1 a.m. on Dec. 22 about a car in front of his house in the city’s northwest side that had been turning on and off.
Police bodycam footage showed Hill emerging from a garage and holding up a cellphone in his left hand seconds before he was fatally shot by Coy. No audio is available because Coy hadn’t activated the body camera, but an automatic “look back” feature captured the footage of the shooting.
Additional bodycam footage showed two other Columbus officers roll Hill over, handcuff him, before leaving him alone again. None of them, according to the footage, offered any first aid even though Hill was barely moving, groaning and bleeding while laying on the garage floor.
Prosecutors must battle a tendency among juries not to hold officers accountable for actions on the job, said Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a Case Western Reserve University criminal law professor.
Coy's attorney has already signaled this as a possible defense. Defense attorney Mark Collins said Wednesday that Coy will fight the charges based on U.S. Supreme Court case law that examines such use of force incidents through the eyes of a “reasonable police officer,” Collins said, adding that his client has fully cooperated with investigators and “honestly believed that he saw a silver revolver coming up in the right hand of the individual.”
Columbus Officer Detweiler, the other responding officer, has said she “did not observe any threats from Mr. Hill,” nor did she see a gun, before Coy shot Hill, according to a summary of her internal affairs interview released in December.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that “even if mistaken, it’s still justified use of force as long as that mistake is looked at through the lens of a reasonable police officer and based on the totality of the situation and experience and training," Collins said.
Hardaway said prosecutors can counter that by focusing on how far an officer deviated from the departmental policy.
“You point to all of the things that they did wrong and all of the ways they disregarded the sanctity of life, the procedures, and the rules,” she said. “And then use that to make the point that all of this is in fact a violation of law.”
Prosecutors in the case also have a very unique advantage with Detweiler.
Stinson said these details from Detweiler question probable cause for the defendant. If another officer who was there at the same did not feel that their life was in danger, then it helps the prosecution’s case.
The criminal investigation is just on Coy, though police are doing an internal investigation into Detweiler's and other officers' potential wrongdoing.
Coy had a long history of complaints from citizens. He was fired on Dec. 28 for failing to activate his body camera before the confrontation and for not providing medical aid to Hill.
Coy's indictment comes just days after Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan was forced out after Democratic Mayor Andrew Ginther said he lost confidence in his ability to make the necessary department changes.
Quinlan himself was highly critical of Coy and other officers’ actions and has said Hill would be alive today if officers had assisted him on the scene.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.