Ohio Church Brings Together Police Officer and Man He Punched to Talk About Police Procedures and Culture Sensitivity

During a closed-door meeting in the basement of Family Missionary Baptist Church, Jonathan Robinson sat across the table from the Columbus police officer who punched him in the face five days before.

The officer, Anthony “AJ” Johnson, leaned across the table and spoke directly to Robinson.

Johnson acknowledged that he hit him. He even apologized for the punch.

And while Johnson did not go so far as to say he wished it never happened, the two men sat across the table Wednesday and listened to each other, said the Rev. Frederick LaMarr, who invited the men to meet at his Oakwood Avenue church on the South Side.

Robinson sat next to his brothers during the meeting with Johnson. One of them, Derrick Sloane, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and obstruction charges stemming from the same June 7 encounter in which Johnson punched Robinson.

Robinson also was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction for not following orders by Officers Carl Harmon and Johnson to back away from a scene where a report of shots being fired was being investigated. Robinson has a pre-trial hearing scheduled in July.

But no one who attended the meeting Wednesday wanted to discuss the particulars of what happened on the 900 block of Heyl Avenue. LaMarr said that wasn’t the point of the meeting.

Cellphone video of the punch has gone viral. The Columbus police later released more than 49 minutes of video footage that showed more context from multiple angles and included in-police-cruiser video of Johnson and Robinson talking on the way to jail.

LaMarr said Johnson and Robinson had agreed to sit down and talk at the church about policing, community engagement and the gap between procedure and culture that has torn at the heart of the black community and the Columbus police for years.

LaMarr said he thinks social media is a monster and was grateful that the Columbus police released their body-camera and cruiser footage, but he wanted to send a different message online.

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SOURCE: The Columbus Dispatch, Ceili Doyle