Another day, another incident to serve as a reminder that cops often show no regard for the respect, dignity and physical wellbeing of Black bodies.
39-year-old Clifford D. Owensby is paraplegic. He can’t walk.
When police officers in Dayton, Ohio, moved to forcibly remove Owensby from his car so they could have a K9 unit perform what the department calls a “free air sniff,” they had been informed repeatedly that their suspect (or victim, depending on who you ask) was a disabled person, but that didn’t stop them from dragging him from his car by his hair and arms, taking him to the ground and handcuffing him. All of this because he refused their demands to exit the vehicle—which he couldn’t do for obvious reasons—and, refused to allow them to help him exit out of fear that they would injure him. Instead, Owensby demanded to speak to a supervisor, but that wasn’t enough for officers whose only concern appeared to be having a Black man submit to their authority.
According to the Washington Post, Owensby has filed a complaint with Dayton NAACP over the September 30, incident that ended in his arrest, which can be viewed in newly released body camera footage.
In the video, an officer can be heard telling Owensby they would assist him in getting out of the car, to which Owensby replied, “I don’t think that’s going to happen, sir.”
“You can cooperate and get out of the car, or I can drag you out of the car,” the unidentified officer told Owensby in response. “You see your two options here?”
“I’m a paraplegic, bro, you can hurt me!” Owensby shouted before the cops began yanking him out.
“To pull this man out of the car, by his hair—a paraplegic—is totally unacceptable, inhumane and sets a bad light on our great city of Dayton, Ohio,” Dayton NAACP President Derrick L. Foward told the Post.
Dayton police initially said they pulled Owensby over because the tint on his windows was too dark and because he was transporting a 3-year-old child without a car seat. They said because Owensby had an arrest on his record for gun and narcotics possession, it was their right to search his vehicle with their K9 unit.
On Friday, the department released an updated statement saying Owensby was seen leaving a suspected drug house they had been monitoring—a house he was only at because he was picking up cable TV boxes from rental properties he owns, according to Foward.
Surprising to no one, the department defended the actions of its officers.
“The officers followed the law, their training and departmental policies and procedures,” Jerome Dix, president of Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #44, said. “Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety, which is one of the fundamental ideologies of our society.”
Phil Stinson, who leads the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, had a different take on the arrest calling the video “painful to watch” and accusing officers of having a “warrior mentality.”
“In a patrol officer’s mindset, quite often once a decision has been made to arrest somebody, the terms are no longer negotiable,” Stinson told The Post, adding that “The officer has many options” when deciding how to proceed in certain situations like—oh, I don’t know—when a paraplegic man who they don’t even know has done anything criminal refuses to exit his car out of concern for his physical health.
“He was saying, let’s slow this down, let’s get a supervisor here,” Stinson said of Owensby being the only one involved who attempted to de-escalate the situation. “[Owensby] was the rational one.”
Officers said they didn’t find drugs in Owensby’s car, but they said, “A large bag of cash was found on the front floorboard containing $22,450. The narcotics K9 did alert on that money, meaning that the money had been in close proximity to illegal drugs.”
Leroy Moore, an activist for people with disabilities and who co-founded the group Krip Hop Nation, told the Post that Owensby was absolutely right not to allow the officers to assist him out of the vehicle because he could be hurt.
“You could break bones, could pull a muscle, you could snap your neck and die right there,” Moore said. “There are so many things that could happen in that situation.”
According to the Dayton Daily News, the police report from the incident cites obstructing official business and resisting arrest in the “crime status” line of the report, but so far Owensby hasn’t been charged with either misdemeanor crime. Owensby has, as of now, only been cited for traffic violations, the window tint and the unrestrained child in his car.