A sting, a police murder and a cover-up

January 3, 2019

Police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a 16-year-old Black teenager in December, and now they are charging his girlfriend with his murder, writes Sarah Mamo.

ON DECEMBER 7, the Columbus Police Department (CPD) murdered yet another Black person: 16-year-old Julius Ervin Tate Jr.

An undercover SWAT team arranged for one of its agents, posing as a potential buyer, to meet Tate to for a sale of merchandise for cash that had been arranged online. Columbus police are carrying out a series of such sting operations involving buy, sell and trade transactions, in which they anticipate an armed robbery to occur.

Police claim Tate pulled a gun on the agent to rob him, prompting another officer, Eric Richard, to shoot Tate, according to CPD spokesperson Chantal Boxill. The CPD also claims Tate’s gun was recovered at the scene.

What adds to the absurdity of the situation is the December 13 arrest of Tate’s girlfriend, 16-year-old Masonique Saunders, not just on charges of aggravated robbery — CPD assumes her role in the alleged robbery, if it happened — but also for the murder of her boyfriend.

Anti-racist activists demand justice for Julius Tate and Masonique Saunders in Columbus, Ohio
Anti-racist activists demand justice for Julius Tate and Masonique Saunders in Columbus, Ohio (@LodroGyatso | Twitter)

It is clear that the CPD wants this police murder quickly swept under the rug. They set up Tate, murdered him and are now attempting to place responsibility for their actions on an innocent 16-year-old Black girl. How can they do this?

The Tate family’s attorney disclosed on December 12 — one day before Saunders’ arrest — that there are eyewitnesses who dispute the police account of Tate’s murder, and that the Tate family is considering filing an unlawful death suit against the CPD.

“I have a sworn affidavit from an eyewitness that says that this [murder] was done totally differently than what has been put on the news,” said Byron Potts, the attorney representing the Tate family. “That he was basically shot in cold blood.”

The most glaring disparity between the police and eyewitness accounts revolves around the question of when and where the gun that allegedly belongs to Tate was located.

Potts says Tate was shot in cold blood, citing an eyewitness who claims “police brought an unarmed Julius Tate out of a house...shot him, and then went back into the house to retrieve a gun.” A Columbus Police spokesperson asserts that police did not plant a gun, but would police ever voluntarily admit it if they had?

There is also a disparity regarding where Tate was shot. Police claim he was shot in the street, but eyewitnesses claim that Tate was shot right outside his house.

ONE OF the most disturbing of the many injustices that hang over this case is the decision by police to charge Tate’s girlfriend with “felony murder,” even though the CPD admits its officer killed Tate. Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman explains felony murder this way:

In a situation where, say, there’s two people involved in a robbery, they go in to rob, and then police shoot somebody, and police are actually the ones who did the direct killing, we still say the felons were approximately causing that death and should be held responsible under this felony murder doctrine.

In this case, it’s particularly clear that “felony murder” is another ploy by police to evade responsibility for their actions.

Additionally, police say Saunders is being charged with murder because she possessed a handgun during the attempted robbery, but the court documents that police say demonstrate this are unavailable to the public. Saunders remains in custody because the magistrate rejected Potts’ request to have her released to her mother, citing her previous arrest record.

This isn’t the first time this scenario occurred in Columbus. Two days prior to Tate’s murder, 18-year-old Kyler Collier was shot by SWAT Officer Robert Vass in an almost identical situation. Vass claimed Collier tried to rob him during a sting operation, and the CPD also claims to have recovered a gun that belonged to Collier.

WINNING SYMPATHY from the public, but more specifically from a jury, relies not only on the ability to demonstrate one’s innocence, but also on implicating some other party. The Columbus police, including its highest-ranking officials, understand this dynamic and are constantly working to discredit their adversaries.

CPD Chief Kim Jacobs’ ostentatious display of the BB gun that 13-year-old Black boy Tyre King supposedly pulled on Office Bryan Mason in 2016 is a perfect example. The same kind of sensationalism is now being used against Tate and Saunders.

CPD officials and local media outlets have gone to great lengths to excavate and publicize Tate and Saunders’ criminal records — so much for “innocent until proven guilty.”

But while the media has spilled plenty of ink about their rap sheets, they’ve made no mention of the circumstances of poverty, unemployment and racism that drive desperate people to do desperate things in search of making ends meet.

In this case, CPD’s ability to discredit Saunders based on her previous record means she must remain in the custody of the legal system, away from her family, despite the obvious fact that she didn’t kill her boyfriend.

If the police and mainstream press insist on combing through the criminal records of these 16-year-olds, why not give equal weight to the criminal history of the Columbus police?

Demanding justice for Tate and Saunders includes a demand for the truth about what happened on December 7. This necessarily means casting a skeptical eye over the assertions of the CPD, which was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice between 1996 and 1998 for engaging in what an official called “a pattern or practice or using excessive force, making false arrests and lodging false charges and conducting illegal searches and seizures.”

Needless to say, if an assistant attorney general for the federal government writes a scathing letter to the CPD about its misconduct, the media and the left would be remiss to be anything but suspicious.

Police are still considering whether to escalate charges against Saunders by moving her case from the juvenile system to adult court. Saunders’ mother Danielle Williams is convinced that police began considering adult charges after it became clear that Saunders would testify against police and tell a different story about what happened on the night that police killed Tate.

Tate’s family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Tate’s funeral costs.

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