Civil rights attorney says he was racially profiled by Ohio police; city investigating incident

Ohio

WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – A civil rights attorney, who is Black, believes the color of his skin played a role in an interaction over the weekend with Westerville Police.

It happened as the man took trash to a dumpster, and while he has no issue with the initial encounter, he said what happened later was problematic.

A spokesperson for the city said the incident is under investigation.

The man said that in his mind, the situation is resolved, but he wants to see steps taken to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Emmanuel Olawale was outside his Westerville law office Saturday around noon, throwing trash in the dumpster outside the office when Westerville Police showed up.

When asked by the officers what was going on, he explained what he was doing, and gave them a business card. His name is in the name of the firm.

Olawale said he also gave the officers his driver’s license, letting them see the names matched.

According to Olawale, officers appeared to initially OK with that but then wanted to run his license anyway.

“While they have my ID, I’m being detained,” he said. “I can’t leave.”

It was at that point he asked the officer why they needed to run his license.

“Obviously I’ve proven to you that I’m an attorney and I work here,” Olawale said to police. “Why do you need to run my ID? Then the first officer said, ‘Well, we need to run your ID because we need to document who we’re here with.’ I’m like, ‘No you don’t need to do that. I’m an attorney and I know my rights.’” 

The officers ended up giving him his license back without running it.

“I think initially when they came to figure out if there was illegal dumping, I think that was justified,” Olawale said. “Because, you know, you never know, maybe, let’s just see what’s going on here. That’s justified. But after that identification and interaction, anything after that crosses the line.”

Olawale believes he was racially profiled after the officers said they were going to run his license.

“I believe that was racial profiling,” he said. “To them, the word of a Black man doesn’t really matter whether he’s an attorney or not, so instead of us just having that interaction and then walking away but because I was Black, they had to re-verify.”

According to the Westerville Division of Police’s website, officers take diversity training classes. Olawale wants to see more.

“And if this could happen to me, I’m a civil rights attorney, how much more a person, a non-lawyer out there on the streets, what chance do they have?”

When NBC 4 first reached out to the city about this story, we were told shortly after that it was under investigation.

A Westerville City spokesperson issued the following statement:

“We were contacted at 2:59 p.m. about your story. As we discussed less than three hours later, the incident is already under investigation. This includes a thorough investigation from the Chief of Police’s office, including officer interviews and review and download of body-worn camera. Because we did not have reasonable time to prepare this information for your story, all information will be made available to the public and media on our website when complete.”

City of Westerville statement

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