The City of Cincinnati and Kroger have reached a settlement with the family of an 11-year-old girl tased by an off-duty CPD officer at a Kroger near Spring Grove Village this summer.
Officer Kevin Brown was working an off-duty security detail Aug. 6 when he tased Donesha Gowdy after he attempted to stop her and other girls whom store employees suspected of shoplifting food. Gowdy continued walking away from Brown, at which point he deployed the taser, hitting her in the lower back and shoulder. Gowdy was taken into custody and later released after a trip to the hospital.
Gowdy's family sued CPD for use of excessive force, and the city and Kroger have settled that suit for $240,000, according to a statement from attorney Al Gerhardstein, who is representing the family. That settlement must be approved by a probate court, which will ensure it is spent on Gowdy's emotional well-being.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac says Brown will be suspended for seven days and will not be allowed to work off-duty assignments for two months as punishment for the incident.
Gowdy's family says the event was traumatizing to the girl and her sister, who witnessed the tasing.
Gerhardstein says the incident isn't a one-off. He says CPD data shows that more than 100 people under the age of 18 were tased by CPD over the past five years — nearly all of them black.
“Our investigation shows a pattern of excessive force against nonviolent young people," Gerhardstein said in that statement. "A thorough review of juvenile policing practices is needed. Donesha was only accused of taking snacks and a onesie. She has written an apology to Kroger. She should not have been subjected to such severe force.”
CityBeat has reached out to CPD for comment.
Brown violated multiple department policies, an internal CPD use of force report released in September found. While official policy allows officers to use tasers on anyone aged 7 to 70, other aspects of Brown's behavior did not align with CPD use of force practices.
According to that report, Brown violated policy when he:
• Failed to turn his body camera on until after deploying his Taser
• Made a prejudicial comment involving race
• Deployed his Taser when a lesser use of force would have been more appropriate
• Did not warn the girl he was going to use the Taser
Following the tasing, Brown handcuffed Gowdy and took her to the office at the Kroger as employees gathered the items in a backpack she was carrying and rang them up. Gowdy was carrying about $53 worth of candy, soda, beef jerky and baby clothing, the report states.
As he was walking her back to the office, Brown, who is black, made a comment about theft in grocery stores to the minor, who is also black.
"You know what, sweetheart," Brown is heard saying on body camera footage. "This is why there's no grocery stores in the black community, because all of this is going on."
During this time, other officers arrived, and footage from their body cameras shows Gowdy crying and asking questions about the taser barbs still in her body. She was later taken to Children's Hospital and then released to her parents. Gowdy was initially charged with obstructing official business and theft, but Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters later dropped those charges.
Mayor John Cranley and Police Chief Eliot Issac later apologized for the incident, and some members of Cincinnati City Council called for changes to CPD's taser policy.
It is the second time this year questions have emerged about CPD use of Tasers on minors. In April, a CPD officer used a Taser on a minor near Hughes High School, which caused controversy. CityBeat has requested body camera footage and documentation of the investigation into that incident; CPD says that investigation is ongoing and the material will be released when it is finished.
CPD Chief Isaac said the use of the Taser seemed "unnecessary," but defended the department's policies around Taser use overall. Those policies allow use of the electric shock devices on people from ages 7 to 70, though they also stipulate that officers shouldn't use the Tasers on someone just because they are fleeing. Some Cincinnati City Council members believe those policies should be amended.
“Quite frankly, I believe the officer violated the policy,” Isaac told council. “It was unnecessary in this circumstance. We’ll take a close look (at department policy) as it relates to juveniles specifically.”