Dayton Police Dragged a Black Paraplegic Man Out of His Car by His Hair

Clifford Owensby told Dayton, Ohio, police he was physically incapable of getting out of the vehicle on his own because of his disability.
October 12, 2021, 4:56pm
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Ohio cops pulled a Black, paraplegic father out of a car by his hair—in front of his toddler—after he didn’t comply with orders to step out of the vehicle, recently released body camera video shows. 

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The man, Clifford Owensby, told police he was physically incapable of getting out of the vehicle on his own because of his disability and that he didn’t want cops to remove him, according to bodycam video. But police dragged him out, anyway, saying they wanted to bring a drug dog to sniff around the vehicle.

“I’m a paraplegic, bro,” Owensby said as the cops removed him, according to the bodycam footage. “I’m trying to tell you I got help getting in the car. Y’all can fucking hurt me!”

Owensby has since filed a formal complaint with the Dayton Unit NAACP over the encounter, which has spurred outrage and national attention. The Dayton Police Department, which has not publicly named the officers involved, has also said it’s investigating.

“They did not respect this man’s rights, and I think can be made to pay for it,” said James R. Willis, Owensby’s attorney. “It’s just that simple.” 

The traffic stop began at about 12:30 p.m. Sept. 30, when local police were patrolling an area of the city with a “suspected drug house” and wanted to stop a white Audi they saw leaving the residence, according to a police briefing. After officers identified Owensby as the vehicle’s driver, they requested that a drug-sniffing dog be brought in based on his “felony drug and weapon history”—which included convictions for marijuana possession and gun possession. 

That search would require Owensby, who became a paraplegic after he was shot a few years ago, to get out of the vehicle. 

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Officers also alleged the tint on the car’s windows was too dark and said Owensby’s 3-year-old child wasn’t in the proper car seat. Still, the stop remained mostly calm until an officer said he’d remove Owensby from the vehicle himself. 

“Sir, I’m going to assist you out of the vehicle, as someone assisted you getting into the vehicle,” an officer can be heard saying in the bodycam video.

“You’re definitely not about to touch me,” Owensby responded.

Owensby then called someone to come to the scene, saying, “Bring some people with cameras.” He asked the officer to call a “white shirt,” another term for a supervisor.

“I’m going to pull you out, and then I’ll call a white shirt,” the officer told Owensby, according to bodycam footage. “You can cooperate and get out of the car, or I will drag you out of the car. Do you see your two options here?”

Within seconds, officers pulled Owensby out of the vehicle—with one of them gripping his hair as Owensby cried out for help.

“Can y’all call the real police, please?” Owensby said.

Two officers then dragged Owensby to the police cruiser, with his legs dangling behind him, according to the bodycam video. Owensby, who told CNN he felt “humiliated” by the treatment, was ultimately charged only for the seatbelt and window-tinting offenses, according to Willis. 

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“They abused him,” Willis said, and called the case an example of “driving while Black.” 

But police said that Owensby had a bag of nearly $22,500 in cash in his vehicle, which the drug-sniffing dog had flagged as potentially having been in close proximity to drugs. (Studies and media reports have long shown that drug dogs, or “K9s,”are regularly wrong or influenced by their handlers’ beliefs.) 

Speaking to the New York Times, Willis noted it’s not a crime to carry large amounts of cash, either. 

In a press conference Sunday, Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Forward said Owensby’s complaint accused Dayton police of profiling, unlawful arrest, and illegal search and seizure of his vehicle. Owensby said he’s had nightmares since the incident. 

“The officer who pulled him out by his hair should not be on the street today, in our opinion,” Forward said. 

The president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police, however, has defended the officers’ actions and said they followed their training and the law, according to the Dayton Daily News. In a statement last week, however, the city’s interim police chief said that “we need to do better, and this can be done by further developing the mutual respect and accountability necessary to make our city safer.”

Interim Chief Matt Carper also noted a local reform process in which cops will soon receive training in de-escalation, bias-free policing, and diversity. The briefing video mentioned the city’s “extensive process” to improve community relations between citizens and police.

Editor’s note 10/12: This story has been updated to include information from a press conference held by the Dayton Unit NAACP.