Columbus, OH — 23-year old Donna Castleberry Dalton, a mother of two, was shot and killed by Officer Andrew Mitchell of the Columbus Police Department. Since that fateful day, controversy has surrounded the case.
According to police, Dalton recently failed to appear in court for a misdemeanor solicitation charge, and the judge issued a warrant for her arrest.
Mitchell claims that he was attempting to take her into custody on this warrant, but instead of just checking in with family and friends or waiting for her to come through the system again as police often do with misdemeanor cases, Mitchell set up an elaborate sting operation. This alleged sting operation was totally unauthorized, and he was not even working her case. He was also was supposed to be on a different call blocks away when the incident happened.
Mary Laile, Dalton's cousin, says that the homicide detective on the case told her directly that everything Mitchell did was completely against protocol.
"He was not sent out to pick her up. A uniformed cop would have done that. He picked her up (assuming he was posed as a John) and drove her 2 blocks from all other officers. Protocol for these type of sting operations is to have a backup that is in the area of where you plan to make the arrest. For whatever reason, he didn’t have his back up, or left them," Lailie told The Free Thought Project.
Mitchell posed as a potential customer and made contact with Dalton under the pretense of requesting her services as a sex worker. At some point, Mitchell got Dalton into his unmarked car, and according to police, he then attempted to "make an arrest." However, friends and family of the victim believe that he was trying to sexually assault her, and the evidence overwhelmingly supports these allegations.
Mitchell was undercover, and by all accounts, he had not properly identified himself to Dalton, so she had no way of knowing that he was a cop. He also took her to a secluded location, where he parked with the passenger side of the car against a wall to block her from exiting the vehicle.
Police will not reveal many details about the incident, aside from the fact that a scuffle broke out between the two when Dalton attempted to escape from the unmarked car, in which Dalton pulled out a knife and stabbed Mitchell in the hand so she could get away.
Next, Mitchell fired eight shots at the young woman, which he claims were in self-defense.
All evidence in the case points to the fact that this officer clearly had something to hide. Overhead photos taken of the crime scene show that Mitchell intentionally drove up to the side of a building strategically placing his car against a brick wall so it was impossible for Dalton to get out.
If Mitchell was just attempting to make a lawful arrest, why would he transport Dalton to a secluded location, without handcuffs, and attempt to block her into a car?
It seems that a possible cover-up happened in the aftermath of the murder as well. Laile told The Free Thought Project that police attempted to hide audio evidence from the family, by claiming that it didn't exist. However, they were told by an investigator that there was, in fact, a tape being withheld by the department.
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"There is audio of the incident that my family was told did not exist for the week following her death. Someone with CPD leaked the information that there is audio and it should not have been leaked," Laile said.
"There is a surveillance camera directly above where the car was parked. The landlord did not cooperate the day of the incident, so the police got a search warrant and took the system and recording. The next night, the landlord tried to sell the video, but then realized it was not there. The video is currently with the crime lab," she added.
The fact that Mitchell was stabbed in the hand is also revealing, as Twitter user Hannah Drake pointed out in the post below:
The case became even more suspicious this week when it was reported that Mitchell was actually the target of a criminal investigation at the time of the murder. Police say that the investigation was so fresh that Mitchell probably didn't even know that he was being investigated, but Dalton's family says that he should not have been on the streets interacting with the public if he is suspected of being involved with any type of criminal investigation.
"If he was being investigated for a complaint, and it's a criminal investigation, why was he even allowed on the street?" Lailie said.
Mitchell has taken a special interest in sex work cases and has already made 80 prostitution-related arrests so far this year, according to police records in a county court database.
Now, in the wake of the shooting, The Columbus Police Department's Vice Unit is under review and has been ordered to halt most of their operations until the review is complete.
"The fact that we have a new commander there. The fact that we've had some high-profile incidents that could involve from either the same officers or the same section have all played into adding to the urgency in which we need to look at their operations," Police Chief Kim Jacobs explained at a press conference this week.
Sadly, it is quite common for police to commit acts of violence and sexual assault against sex workers.
As The Free Thought Project has reported in the past, sex workers are more likely to have their sexual consent violated by police than by anyone else they encounter. One study that surveyed sex workers in New York City found that at least 14% experienced sexual violence from police. An even more shocking statistic is that 64.1% of trans sex workers have reported sexual abuse from law enforcement officers.
As long as we need to work to survive, sex work is going to be a profession that some people choose to get involved in. It is often said that prostitution is one of the oldest professions in history, which means that it is not something that is possible to eradicate through legislation. Legislation attempting to control this type of activity does nothing but make it more dangerous as we see in the case of Donna Castleberry Dalton. If sex work was legal, Dalton and countless others would still be alive today.
"The only thing on Donna’s record was the solicitation charge at the end of July. Absolutely nothing else. She was not a career criminal or fugitive," Lailie said.
The family is currently asking for help with Donna's final expenses on GoFundMe.