UPDATE: Dayton Police Chief responds to report critical of officers’ encounter with disabled man

DAYTON — UPDATE: 9:30 p.m.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl responded to a report by the city’s independent Citizens’ Appeal Board Tuesday, saying his department has already committed to more training in dealing with citizens with disabilities, is searching for more training, and is “reviewing” the recommendations in the report.

Biehl reiterated the findings of a Dayton Police internal investigation reviewing the Nov. 2020 encounter between officers and Jack Runser, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, saying the investigation found “the two officers acted consistently with their prior training and experience, and took actions they believed would ultimately protect Mr. Runser.”

Officers ended up handcuffing Runser and taking him to Miami Valley Hospital, thinking he was in need of assistance.

“In hindsight, the assistance provided by the officers was not what was needed,” Biehl said. “However, there was no evidence to support that the officers acted with malice or intended harm toward Mr. Runser.”

Biehl said DPD took action following the case being filed with the Citizens’ Appeal Board in February, and “has already taken action to identify and deploy pertinent training for the department,” and “are currently looking for additional training related to interacting with special needs populations.”

Biehl also disputed certain findings in the Citizens’ Appeal Board report, including that “the officers knew that Mr. Runser was hearing impaired before they arrived at the hospital,” which he said “was inaccurate.”

Biehl also disputed officers “abandoned” Runser at the hospital, as alleged in the Citizens’ Appeal Board findings. “Hospital staff indicated that they would take care of Mr. Runser, since the officers were no longer needed,” Biehl said.

Biehl added, “The continuing education of our personnel is part of our core value of professionalism. We adapt and improve policies, procedures, and training on a regular basis and will continue to do so.”


INITIAL REPORT:

A new report by an independent review board in Dayton sharply criticizes the police response to an encounter with a disabled man last fall, disagreeing with a police-run internal investigation into the incident.

WHIO reported in April, police records obtained by the I-Team through a public records request reveal officers put Jack Runser in handcuffs and took him to Miami Valley Hospital following an encounter at Gettysburg Ave. and Germantown St. in Dayton last November.

>> Previous Coverage: Records show why criticized police probe exonerated officers following encounter with disabled man

Runser claimed last month, this only happened because of his disabilities. Officers said in written reports after the incident, they believed they were helping Runser, and a police internal investigation exonerated the two officers involved of any wrongdoing. However, Dayton’s independent Citizens’ Review Board recently split with that police investigation conclusion, and said the officers’ actions “were not justified or proper.”

Monday, the I-Team obtained a copy of a full report produced by that Board, which spells out that panel’s concerns about the officers’ actions during the Nov. 8 encounter, and raised questions about the police internal investigation.

The report said the masks officers were wearing due to COVID-19 made it “difficult to communicate” with Runser when they approached him last fall, as they followed up on a 911 call from a citizen concerned Runser was walking in the road, may get hit by a car and may have a disability. The report said due to Runser’s “inability to hear the officer or read their lips,” he “did not believe that they were trying to make contact with him.”

The report said Runser claimed he “requested pen and paper to communicate” with officers, who were “unaware of his communication abilities.”

“Despite giving several commands for Mr. Runser to cooperate,” the report continued, “the situation escalated and the officer placed Mr. Runser in handcuffs.”

However, the review board’s report said, officers never told Runser “why he was being stopped, detained or transported” to the hospital, and therefore, “had the right to walk away without incident.”

Every account of the interaction – from Runser, the Dayton Unit NAACP, police records obtained by the I-Team, and the Citizens’ Review Panel report obtained Monday – agree officers brought Runser, in handcuffs, to Miami Valley Hospital, where a medical professional ultimately sorted out what turned out to be confusion – Runser was not in need of medical attention for mental health concerns, or on drugs.

But the review board’s report said officers “abandoned” Runser at the hospital and “immediately,” upon returning to their cruiser, police video reveals an officer said, “God, he smelled like (expletive.)”

The report obtained Monday said officers “failed to comply with DPD policies” … “throughout their entire interaction with Mr. Runser.”

“The community expects that its police officers are respectful in interactions with the public and show decency in carrying out their job duties,” the report continued. “That did not occur in this case.”

The report went on to question the police internal investigation, which exonerated the officers of wrongdoing.

The report when on to note “the insufficiencies of the initial police investigations continue to be troubling and problematic” in reversing the decision by police supervisors.

The Citizens’ Review Board recommended the police department improve officer training for dealing with those who are hearing impaired, and perhaps have a card in their cruisers that asks people if they have a hearing impairment and would like an interpreter present. The recommendations call for the city to follow up within 30 days.

Last month, in a statement to the I-Team, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said he had already called on police command staff “to devise training to ensure we respond appropriately to various special needs populations.” Biehl said at the time, the department would “examine” recommendations from the Citizens’ Appeal Board.

A police spokesperson did not immediately return the I-Team’s request for comment Monday.