Latest: Heer Park unhoused camp cleared, FOP suing city and more

From a police officer winning a lawsuit against Columbus police proving racial discrimination to proposed affordable housing on the southside, here is what's new in policing and development.
A Black officer winning a racial discrimination lawsuit against Columbus police, unhoused folks being evicted from a southside park and the police union suing the city are among the top headlines in policing and development news.
A Black officer winning a racial discrimination lawsuit against Columbus police, unhoused folks being evicted from a southside park and the police union suing the city are among the top headlines in policing and development news. Graphic designed by Jaelynn Grisso, photo of unhoused camp courtesy of Heer to Serve

Editor's note: As part of our deep dives into policing and development, we produce in-depth articles and videos. But, while working on those stories, we often hear lots of news that informs our stories but doesn’t necessarily make it to the final product. As such, we wanted to create an avenue to share those smaller bits of news that keep us and you informed. That's where this digests comes in. A couple times a month, we will post round-ups like the one below of the top news for development and policy. Want to share your thoughts on it? Think we missed a story? Let us know at editorial@matternews.org.

Here are the top recent news items for policing:

Melissa McFadden awarded $2 in a racial discrimination

A Columbus police lieutenant was awarded $2 in a racial discrimination case against the division of police last Monday, according to WOSU.

The officer, Lt. Melissa McFadden, who is Black, filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2018 against the city of Columbus. She was awarded $2 by jury decision following a four-day trial.

In 2018, she was accused of creating a hostile work environment and racial bias by inflating a Black co-workers performance report.

She received an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against her because of the report, which was used as justification to reassign her to the property room, according to BET.

The lawsuit that McFadden recently won alleged that other officers with similar complaints who were white did not get reassigned, according to 10TV.

Former Public Safety Director Ned Pettus cleared McFadden of allegations of misconduct, saying the division did not have sufficient proof. This came after then-Chief Kim Jacobs recommended McFadden be fired based on an internal investigation that found McFadden had a “Black militancy mindset”

Columbus police officers stand facing protesters in downtown Columbus in the summer of 2020. Columbus, among many cities nationwide, saw massive protests for months after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In Columbus, police responded to nonviolent protests with tear gas, flash bangs, and other riot control measures that have since been banned.
Columbus police officers stand facing protesters in downtown Columbus in the summer of 2020. Columbus, among many cities nationwide, saw massive protests for months after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In Columbus, police responded to nonviolent protests with tear gas, flash bangs, and other riot control measures that have since been banned. Marisa Twigg

Columbus Police Launch "Dialogue team"

Columbus police have launched a “dialogue team” of officers in response to 2020 protests.

The officers will be used at social justice rallies, protests and community events.

There is currently two officers on the team, which is volunteer-based, according to Spectrum News.

The dialogue team is intended to create a line of communication between organizers and police leadership and is modeled after dialogue teams in Europe, which the division sent officers to Europe to study. The officers will be identifiable by bright blue vests with "dialogue officers" written on them.

As a note, officers told Matter that a dialogue officer was present at the camp sweep. However, reporters for Matter and protesters all reported that they did not see or speak to a dialogue officer before or during the sweep.

FOP suing the city for denying officer benefits, claims denial will discourage whistleblowers

The police union is suing the city for denial of an employee benefit and claims that denial will discourage whistleblowers, according to ABC6.

The lawsuit claims that the city breached its agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police by rejecting officer Dale Surbaugh’s opportunity to participate in an early retirement program for officers. The Retirement Incentivization Program offered 100 employees of Columbus police $200,000 to retire from the division early.

Surbagh was denied the benefit because he was in an ongoing administrative investigation, one of three criterion for eligibility.

But the suit claims the investigation was unjustified and the result of retaliation from another officer who was convicted of trafficking almost 8 kilograms of fentanyl.

According to the lawsuit, former officer John Kotchkoski filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against Surbaugh because he discovered Surbagh had been speaking with his supervisor about misconduct from Kotchkoski.

The EEO complaint alleged that Surbaugh had “made insensitive comments based on Mr. Kotchkoski’s ethnicity,” according to the lawsuit. Several other members of the unit Surbaugh and Kotchkoski were on joined the complaint, and the lawsuit claims those officers later recanted their complaint.

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A Black officer winning a racial discrimination lawsuit against Columbus police, unhoused folks being evicted from a southside park and the police union suing the city are among the top headlines in policing and development news.

And here are the top recent news items for policing:

One of the former living spaces at an unhoused camp on Columbus' southside. The camp was demolished on June 21, 2022. The remaining blankets, tables, mattresses and other items were piled together and hauled off site.
One of the former living spaces at an unhoused camp on Columbus' southside. The camp was demolished on June 21, 2022. The remaining blankets, tables, mattresses and other items were piled together and hauled off site. Jaelynn Grisso

Unhoused folks evicted from Heer Park

An unhoused camp on the south side of Columbus was cleared by the City and Columbus Division of Police last Tuesday.

The camp was home to about 25 residents before the sweep, according to mutual aid group Heer to Serve.

The City provides names and contact information for shelters, outreach programs, and other services, but members of Heer to Serve also said the City did not place any of the camp residents into housing.

Camp sweeps include issuing trespassing notices to all residents, demolishing any remaining campsites, hauling the tents, blankets, mattresses and other belongings away, and clearing the weeds in the area. As part of that, the City sprays herbicide on the site.

Officials claimed the weed removal and herbicide were for honeysuckle. But when asked if they’d be clearing other areas overgrown with weeds, they clarified that the city was only targeting “problem areas.”

The City paid more than $40,000 to a private company called Environmental Remediation Contractor to clear the camp, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Affordable housing planned for the southside

Two developers are hoping to build two affordable housing complexes near South High, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

NRP group and LDG Development put two developments before the Far South Side area commission during the June 2 meeting.

Both developments are for affordable apartments and received recommendations from the area commission for zoning variances needed to build the development.

The NRP group hopes to build a 240-unit complex that will have apartments for folks making anywhere from 30% to 80% AMI. For a single person in Columbus, that’s about $20,000 to $50,00 annually.

However, in order to build, the group would have to purchase the Rice Bowl, a Chinese restaurant on South High. The restaurant owners do not have any plans to sell, according to the Dispatch.

The LDG Development is still in the design phase, but could hold hundreds of one to three bedroom apartments for folks making 60% AMI, which is about $40,000 a year.

Google data center construction began

The Far South Side will also be home to a Google data center as construction began earlier than expected, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Developers were expecting to break ground in June but started a few months earlier. The project received $54.3 million in tax incentives from City Council, despite the Far South Side voting 7-4 against the project for fears of increasing property values.

The center is expected to create 20 jobs, which means the city is giving more than $2.7 million in tax revenue per job created

At the time, it operated through the shell company Magellan Enterprises LLC, hiding its identity.

A little history about the location: It’s on the historic Hartman Stock Farm, which was created by Samuel Hartman at the turn of the century. Harman made a fortune in the 1800’s selling a tonic that was supposed to help with phlegm, but it was later discovered that the tonic was nearly 30% alcohol.

The farm grew a range of produce at its peak and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Google agreed to maintain about a third of existing farmland as greenspace.

Sales and sale prices continue to increase in Franklin County, according to a dashboard published by the Franklin County auditor pictured here.
Sales and sale prices continue to increase in Franklin County, according to a dashboard published by the Franklin County auditor pictured here. Franklin County Auditor's Office

Franklin County housing market continues to increase in sale numbers and prices

Data from the Franklin County Auditor shows the housing market remains strong despite slowing nationally.

A dashboard from the auditor shows that total number of sales and the median sale price have both increased since last May.

Total number of sales for May was 1,321, with 16 more sales in May this year than last year. The median sales price is up 19% from last year to $280,000.

Nationally, sales for existing homes fell by 8.6% from last May to this May, according to the National Realtors Association. However, the median sales price for existing homes increased 14.8% to break $400,000 for the first time.

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