The police department of Columbus, Ohio, has disbanded its vice unit—the unit dedicated to “moral crimes”—after a series of investigations into allegations that an officer forced women to have sex with him to avoid arrest.
According to the Associated Press, the FBI began investigating recent allegations against Columbus vice squad officer Andrew Mitchell, who is accused of holding two women against their will and forcing them to have sex with him under the threat of arrest. On March 11, he was charged in federal court with witness tampering, obstruction of justice, making a false statement to federal investigators, and deprivation of rights under color of law. Mitchell, who joined the unit in 2017 after three decades in the force and who retired just after he was charged, faces life in prison.
Separately, according to NBC News, state authorities investigated Mitchell after he fatally shot a 23-year-old woman three times in August. The woman had stabbed him in the hand while sitting in his unmarked police car and was likely working at the time as a sex worker. Her family expressed outrage that she had been killed while already detained in his car. No charges have been filed yet from that investigation.
Interim Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan announced the news of the unit’s disbandment Tuesday night on Twitter, promising to move toward a “community approach” to crimes related to sex work, alcohol, and gambling. He said he had suspended three officers and assigned the seven remaining officers to other departments. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the unit’s lieutenant, two sergeants, and seven other officers had already voluntarily transferred to other assignments. The city also announced Tuesday it planned to dismiss the 18 pending sex work charges against women who were arrested by Mitchell, according to the AP.
According to the Dispatch, two other vice unit officers were suspended last year in connection to an FBI Public Corruption Task Force investigation. Neither of those officers has yet been charged with a crime.
Columbus’ vice unit had already come under scrutiny in July after three of its members participated in the arrest of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who has said she had an affair with President Donald Trump. An internal investigation concluded that the arrest was improper but found “no direct evidence” of political motivation. Daniels has sued the officers for $2 million over civil rights violations. The city has already paid out a total of $150,000 in a settlement to two other dancers at the strip club who were also arrested that night, according to the Dispatch. The two women alleged that they were arrested because of the police efforts to punish Daniels.
In September, then–Police Chief Kim Jacobs, who retired in February, suspended the unit’s street-level duties. She also requested that the FBI take over the investigation into the unit after “recent high profile incidents … brought forward a variety of allegations against the Vice Section via social media postings and other sources,” according to the AP.
Correction, March 20, 2019.: This post originally referred to former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs as “he.” Jacobs is a woman.