© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Former Franklin Township Officer Charged With Civil Rights Violation

Cellphone video released of Robert Wells, a former Franklin Township officer who resigned for kicking a restrained suspect in the head.

The FBI and local prosecutors announced on Thursday that a federal grand jury indicted a former Franklin Township police officer on two charges stemming from use of excessive force.

Robert Wells, a former part-time Franklin Township officer who resigned in May, was charged with one count of violating civil rights and one count of obstructing a federal investigation. 

The charges stem from a May 1, 2018, incident involving 18-year-old Anthony Foster, Jr. Foster's car was stopped by officers, but Police Chief Byron C. Smith says Foster fled and continued driving recklessly.

A cellphone video released of the incident shows one officer pinning Foster on the ground before Wells approaches and kicks him in the head.

"He’s alleged in the indictment to have violated civil rights by kicking [Foster] in the face with his foot while he was restrained on the ground, handcuffed behind his back," says Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

A Department of Justice press release Thursday said Wells' actions "deprived the victim of his Constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."

Wells was placed on administrative leave after the video emerged and resigned from the department less than a week later.

O'Brien says Wells was also indicted on a charge of obstructing a federal investigation. The indictment alleges Wells issued one report the night of the incident and then attempted to change it days later, after the video emerged.

Benjamin Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that Wells made false statements in his police report with the intent to "diminish responsibility" and cover up his use of excessive force.

A count of "deprivation of rights under color of law," when it results in bodily injury, is a federal crime with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. Obstructing a federal investigation could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The case will be prosecuted by Criminal Chief Kenneth L. Parker and O'Brien, who has been named a Special Assistant United States Attorney.

"Officers are trained," O'Brien said. "They're trained to chase people, they're trained to subdue people and they're trained to do it without using excessive force. I think that training is among the things we look at."

Glassman says he was upset by the video of Wells kicking Foster, which he says was "crucial evidence in this case."

"It undermines everything police are trying to do to build relationships with the communities they serve," Glassman said.

This was the second viral video of a local officer kicking a restrained suspect in as many years. Last July, Columbus Police officer Zachary Rosen was fired for using "unreasonable force" in a similar incident, but he was reinstated in March 2018 after an appeal from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Wells has a history of unreasonable force as an officer - he was also fired from the Pataskala Police department in 2002. In that incident, Wells and another officer were caught on cellphone video kicking an 18-year-old man during an arrest. Wells pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault the following year.

Under Ohio law, people with felony convictions cannot serve as police officers. Some violent misdemaenor convictions keep people from entering police academies, but the law does not apply to people already working as officers.

Wells surrendered himself on Thursday and made his first appearance in the U.S. District Court in Columbus. He was released on bond.