COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Columbus Civilian Police Review Board has voted to recommend the removal of one of its members after a controversy caused earlier this month following a protest by a hate group in Clintonville.
At a special meeting Monday, the board voted 8-1 to recommend member Gambit S. Aragon be dismissed from the board after an online conflict erupted between Aragon and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther after Columbus police officers were seen with members of the Proud Boys.
On Dec. 3, Aragon retweeted photos showing Columbus police officers standing with members of the Proud Boys, who were in Clintonville protesting a Holi-Drag storytime event that day which was eventually canceled due to safety concerns. Aragon also posted saying police, city council, and the mayor “don’t give a **** about us.”
In a Facebook post on Dec. 7, Ginther called for Aragon to resign for showing what Ginther called “a bias against law enforcement.” Aragon’s removal will now be decided by Ginther, who, as mayor, has the duty to remove board members.
“Statements and misrepresentations made on social media clearly signal a bias against law enforcement, and he has identified himself as a person who is working against police to keep the community safe,” Ginther posted.
In response to Ginther’s request he resigns, Aragon posted, in part, “Mayor Gunther (sic), your desire to remove the brown queer nonbinary person that spoke up against hate groups and those who support them, solidifies why I and people like me still will continue to use our voice. I still believe I can do some good in this position.”
During an opening statement, board chairperson Janet Jackson said board members were not aware of Aragon’s social media posts at the time of its last meeting on Dec. 6, prompting Monday’s special meeting. Aragon did ask at that Dec. 6 meeting if the board would open an investigation into the Dec. 3 events, Jackson said.
Recommendations for removal of members can be made only by a two-thirds vote of seated members and only for inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office, Jackson said. Aragon was not allowed to be part of the executive session or vote on his removal. The motion put forth by the board was to remove Aragon for neglect of duty.
“When we review cases, when we review what’s before us, we have to be fair, objective and impartial,” said member Kyle Strickland. “If you have biases that you can’t check, you should not be a member of the board.”
Later in the meeting, Strickland, the only board member who voted to keep Aragon, called for the creation of a policy that formally addresses a member’s removal from the board.
“A neglect of duty charge without us even having a discussion about that with the board member themselves, to me, seems like an odd recommendation for us to make,” Strickland said. “We haven’t even talked to Mr. Aragon as a board, as a collective.”
Before the board moved to executive session to debate whether Aragon should be removed, he read a statement.
“I have a simple goal in life and that is to elevate the voices and the spectacular talent and stories of our communities,” Aragon said before the executive session. “I want to spend the rest of my life here on Earth actually being part of a final stand of sorts. I will hold the line down for our younger Americans; like them, I stand against the oppression of white supremacy and its fascist principles. I’m the type of person who believes right is right and that’s a full stop.”
Aragon, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a person of color, said he joined the board in an effort to protect members of his community.
“I can emphatically say this board won’t make a difference,” he said. “Instead of doing real work for the citizens of this city, we were buried in training after training,” adding that most of that training was “propaganda.”
“I’m not a politician,” Aragon said. “I actually want to help my community so your decision here today forces my community to do what we have always done, which is solve these problems for ourselves.”
It was these comments that board member Rich Nathan said helped him decide his vote to remove, saying Aragon “drew a line in the sand.”
“The community expects that these cases are going to be handled in an unbiased way and your public statements have raised an enormous question mark for me whether you could be unbiased,” Nathan said.
Board member Mark Fluharty introduced the motion that led to Aragon’s potential dismissal from the board.
“Once your credibility is gone, unfortunately, it is gone, and that is a decision other people will make besides us,” Fluharty said.
Aragon said he does not regret making the posts and said he would be able to do his job on the board in an unbiased way.
“Of course, absolutely,” he said after the meeting. “I’m a grown person. I can have two opposing thoughts at the exact same time. Shocking. It still doesn’t, it wouldn’t keep me from being able to sit here, read a report on a training or some procedure.”
Aragon is now the second vacancy on the board mired in controversy this year. Former board member Aaron Thomas, a program coordinator with the ASPIRE Medical Research Program at Ohio State University, resigned Aug. 31, one day after Columbus Police Officer Ricky Anderson shot and killed Donovon Lewis, 20, who was unarmed and sleeping at the time of the shooting.
The day Lewis was killed, Thomas tweeted “L-O-L” in response to a tweet that asked, “What happened to all the racism committees from Summer 2020? Where’s the measurables? What ‘progress’ [has] been made?!”
The next day, Thomas resigned. His resignation was announced at the board’s Sept. 6 meeting.
As of Sept. 30, the board has received 368 complaints against Columbus police, 260 of which have been closed. Fifty-five complaints led to investigations being open, and 39 complaints were pending.
If Aragon is removed from the board, it will have two open seats.