"There's a number of problems on the bill, obviously we want to keep the schools…
by Geoff Redick Friday, March 5th 2021
Leland said Friday that including language to “mentally interfere” or “annoy” police was a bridge too far.”We can’t criminalize every activity, every interaction between community members and the police,” Leland said. “
OHIO (WSYX) — Former Columbus Police chief Thomas Quinlan said this week that bystanders to police interactions “must be prohibited from mentally interfering with an officer,” setting off a debate between Democrats and Republicans about what is reasonable to expect of the public when observing police make an arrest.
The testimony from now-Deputy Chief Quinlan came during a House Criminal Justice Committee hearing on HB22, one of four Republican-led bills under scrutiny from Democrats and civil rights organizations alike — some of whom have termed the package the “anti-freedom bills.”
The four bills — Senate bills 16 and 41, and House bills 22 and 109 — are meant to criminalize or further punish the types of riotous conduct that caused Columbus protests to spiral out of control in May 2020, after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
HB22, among other things, would prohibit throwing items at police officers, striking officers, or blocking or preventing an officer from reaching and detaining a person. It would also prohibit “interfering” or obstructing officers in a manner that inhibits their control of a person.
An amendment passed Friday added language to include “intent to annoy” an officer by throwing an object or substance at them.
Quinlan’s interpretation and explanation of those rule on Thursday included what he called “mentally interfering.”
“We can expect bystanders not to interfere with or obstruct the officer from official duties — whether the interference comes in the form of physically, or mentally, obstructing an officer.”
When questioned, Quinlan told Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) that an officer must first command a person to stand back, or be quiet, before leveling the proposed “mental interference” charge against them.
Rep. Leland read Quinlan a transcript of what bystanders yelled at police as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd in May 2020.
“Would it be reasonable to assume these bystanders were ‘mentally interfering’ with the police officers?” Leland asked.
“If an officer does not have that person yelling at them,” Quinlan replied, “maybe they have the actual time to look at what’s in front of them – the individual on the ground – and realize the actual mistake, the tragic fatal mistake they were making.”
Quinlan later explained he does believe Floyd’s killing was “heinous” and a crime.
Leland said Friday that including language to “mentally interfere” or “annoy” police was a bridge too far.
“We can’t criminalize every activity, every interaction between community members and the police,” Leland said. “I certainly want to protect all law enforcement from any kinds of attack. I just think we’ve taken it a little bit too far.”
Columbus Police declined to make Quinlan available for interviews or provide any clarifying statement on his testimony.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) said Friday that he and Rep. Jeff Lare (R-Violet Twp) are open to amendments that could improve the bill. Wilkin indicated his main concern was the physical distance around a police officer as they make an arrest.
“If you want to yell and chant from, let’s say, three feet away – an arms length – is there a difference between doing that and being directly in the face of the officer?” Wilkin said. “And we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think there are people out there (crowding into officers’ space).”