Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify comments by Akron Councilman Brad McKitrick.
The Akron police union and chief are condemning the words of a councilwoman who, during a public meeting Monday, said police “murdered” Jayland WalkeR.
Clay Cozart, head of the Fraternal Order of Police Akron Lodge 7, released an email to the press Thursday saying members of the police union unanimously voted no confidence in At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien.
On Monday afternoon during a heated and racially charged debate over appointing a young Black attorney to the new police oversight board, Omobien tried again to articulate to her white male colleagues why Imokhai Okolo called some police “pigs” on social media shortly after eight Akron officers fatally shot Walker 46 times following a chase.
“We’ve articulated to you that his views when he did whatever on Facebook were probably the views of many African Americans in this city at the time Jayland Walker was murdered by the police,” Omobien said.
Cozart, who did not respond to a text message Monday or a voicemail left Thursday, called Omobien’s characterization of the killing “reckless, irresponsible, inflammatory, defaming, and could unlawfully influence the Grand Jury who will hear the case soon.”
A local grand jury is expected to begin reviewing the state’s investigation into the deadly use of police force in Aprilthe Ohio attorney general has said.
Police Chief Steve Mylett also released a statement calling Omobien’s characterization of the tragedy “irresponsible and reprehensible given that an independent investigation has yet to be concluded and the grand jury proceeding has yet to occur.” Mylett said he was “disappointed” but appreciated that Omobien had called him moments earlier to express regret for what she said.
Reached Thursday by phone, Omobien said she’s asked Mylett for the chance to address officers, perhaps at a morning roll call meeting.
“I probably could have chosen a different word, like he was killed by the police,” Omobien told the Beacon Journal.
“Whatever happened,” she continued, “Jayland Walker does not deserve to be dead at the hands of the police. That was wrong. And everybody saw not only was he shot 46 times, they were shooting him while he was on the ground.”
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan also released a statement Thursday criticizing Omobien’s comment and urging community members to wait patiently for the grand jury’s decision.
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“All elected officials know their words matter and word choice is important,” Horrigan said. “Councilwoman Omobien’s statement was irresponsible. I understand that she has since spoken with Chief Mylett. At a time when we are working diligently as a city and a community to improve police community relations, language such as this undermines that important work and creates further challenges to progress.
“We continue to ask our community for patience as the independent investigation into the death of Jayland Walker remains ongoing and we must all wait for a grand jury to ultimately hear the case and make a decision. I want to thank our law enforcement officers for the incredible work they do day in and day out to make Akron safer, and I look forward to all of us moving forward together.”
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Omobien called Cozart’s statement an effort by the FOP to distract from the organization’s meddling in council’s decision to appoint members to the voter-approved Citizens’ Police Oversight Board. Council members Brad McKitrick and Phil Lombardo said they spoke with police officers before they voted to block Okolo’s appointment Monday.
McKitrick said officers and residents had reached out to him with concerns about Okolo. He also noted that a Columbus police review board member had recently been removed for using anti-police rhetoric on social media, and McKitrick hoped to avoid a similar scenario in Akron.
At-Large Councilman Jeff Fusco told the Beacon Journal he made that same commitment to Cozart and others, even before he knew of Okolo’s controversial social media post.
“The FOP has no role to play — absolutely none — in our selection of the members of the police oversight committee,” Omobien said. “So, [the FOP is] trying to take the focus off them and put it on me, because of a word I used.”
Reach reporter Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.
This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: Police condemn councilwoman who said officers ‘murdered’ Jayland Walker