I-Team: Records show why criticized police probe exonerated officers following encounter with disabled man

A Dayton Police supervisor believes his officers were trying to help a disabled man when they approached him in a November encounter now criticized by an independent panel.

Last week, the director of Dayton’s Human Relations Council confirmed to the I-Team, the city’s Citizens’ Appeal Board disagreed with a Dayton Police internal investigation which found no wrongdoing in officers’ interactions with Jack Runser Nov. 8 in Dayton. Runser is deaf and has cerebral palsy.

According to Runser and internal police records obtained by the I-Team through an open records request, officers put the 50-year-old in handcuffs Nov. 8 after approaching him near the intersection of Gettysburg Ave. and Germantown St. following a 911 call. Officers took Runser to Miami Valley Hospital for evaluation, a decision Runser now calls officer misconduct.

>>>Independent review board: Dayton Police officers’ actions ‘not justified or proper’ in encounter with disabled man

“I was afraid,” Runser said through sign language and an interpreter at an April 17 news conference hosted by the Dayton Unit NAACP, which has taken Runser as a client.

A police report obtained by the I-Team confirms a citizen called 911 Nov. 8 reporting, what turned out to be Runser, “walking in the median.” The caller told dispatchers Runser “looked like he may have a physical disability” and was “not walking straight.”

Two Dayton Police officers responded to the area, and later wrote in special reports obtained by the I-Team, wanting to help Runser. One officer wrote, he asked Runser “if he was doing ok,” with an officer writing they eventually “grabbed him by his right arm in order to get his attention.”

Runser said Saturday, he tried to use sign language to let officers know he was deaf and ok, but said COVID-19 protocol face masks exacerbated the communication barrier.

Both police officers described Runser becoming agitated during the encounter as they tried to speak with him. An officer wrote, upon grabbing Runser, he “yelled and escalated in his attempts to break free.”

“And I ended up handcuffed,” Runser recalled Saurday. “I was taken to the hospital.”

Once at Miami Valley Hospital, Runser and police records say, a medical professional recognized him and determined this was a mix-up: with no drugs or mental health concerns.

The Dayton Unit NAACP President questioned the decision by police to put Runser in handcuffs Saturday, and bring him to the hospital – in what Derrick Foward said, was a step against Runser’s will.

“Can you imagine how he felt being deaf, not knowing what is happening with these police officers. Then being handcuffed,” Foward said.

Police records show Runser subsequently filed a formal complaint with the Dayton Police Department regarding the incident, which triggered a police internal investigation.

An internal report from that investigation obtained by the I-Team showed a police supervisor concluded officers legitimately believed Runser “appeared to have a leg injury” upon approaching him Nov. 8, and said, “due to his behavior and appearance,” officers thought he was “under the influence of methamphetamine.” The handcuffs officers placed on Runser, the report concluded, were “for the safety of all parties.”

The investigation exonerated the officers, with no discipline recommended.

Following that finding earlier this year, Runser filed an appeal, recently heard by Dayton’s independent Citizens’ Appeal Board.

The director of the city’s Human Relations Council confirmed to the I-Team that third party panel “did not concur with the results of the police investigation,” concluding, contrary to the internal investigation, the officers’ actions “were not justified or proper.”

That board will send recommendations to Dayton City Commission, Dayton Police, and the Dayton city manager’s office.

In a statement to the I-Team, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said upon the case being appealed to the Citizens’ Appeal Board, he directed police command staff “to devise training to ensure we respond appropriately to various special needs populations.” Biehl said the department would “examine” recommendations from the Citizens’ Appeal Board.

Meantime, Runser Saturday indicated his hope to hire a lawyer following the November encounter. But he said there’s a reason he is speaking publicly about the case.

“I believe I have a powerful story to tell,” he said. “My story can maybe help others.”