Federal prosecutors on Monday announced the indictment of Columbus Police Vice officer Andrew Mitchell, who authorities allege kidnapped victims under the guise of an arrest and forced them to exchange sex for their freedom.
Mitchell, a 31-year department veteran, was relieved of duty in September amid multiple misconduct investigations. Mitchell was taken into custody without incident Monday and appeared before a federal court that afternoon.
A federal grand jury indicted Mitchell on seven counts, including three counts of depriving victims' civil rights while acting under the color of law, two counts of witness tampering, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of making false statements to federal agents.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman, FBI special agent Todd Wickerman, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and interim Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan announced the charges Monday afternoon in downtown Columbus. If he's convicted, Mitchell could face life in prison.
The Justice Department says Mitchell, who works on the Vice Unit on solicitation cases, allegedly kidnapped multiple victims under the guise of an arrest and forced them to have sex in exchange for their freedom.
"When you have a police officer who not only commits a crime, but does so under color of law, under his authority as a police officer, that is an extraordinarily serious offense that is a nightmarish breach of trust, and that is a federal crime," Glassman said.
A Justice Department press release recounts three particular instances of Mitchell's behavior. In July 2017, Mitchell allegedly kidnapped a victim under the guise of an arrest, transported them to another location, and forced them to perform oral sex.
Mitchell allegedly forced a second victim to have vaginal sex in September 2017. In the summer of 2018, Mitchell allegedly kidnapped the second victim under the guise of an arrest, transported them to another location, and forced them to have anal sex in exchange for their freedom.
Authorities allege Mitchell attempted to tamper with two witnesses in the federal case, and attempted to "influence, delay and prevent the testimony of a fifth victim in an official proceeding before a federal grand jury."
Mitchell is also charged with providing false information to FBI agents in September 2018, claiming he "had never had sex with a prostitute." Authorities allege Mitchell has engaged in sex with multiple prostitutes and paid money for sex.
Mitchell appeared in federal court for a hearing Monday afternoon, when his case was unsealed.
“Police officers are heroes, not predators, so when one goes bad, it’s more important than ever to do justice, because it pulls down respect for all law enforcement," said Yost. The Ohio Attorney General's office assisted with the investigation, which was led by the FBI's Southern Ohio Public Corruption Task Force.
“The community has every right to be disgusted by the news, as well as anyone who wears this badge," Quinlan added. "We take an oath to obey the Constitution, and laws of the state and local government. This officer will be held accountable, but I ask for the community’s continued support for the 1,900 officers who work hard every day to honor our profession.”
No state or local charges have been announced against Mitchell. Rape and kidnapping are both state, rather than federal, crimes.
Andrew Mitchell's Record
Mitchell was a central subject of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Vice Unit operations. Last August, Mitchell became subject of an internal investigation following a citizen complaint. Deputy Chief Tim Becker said Mitchell wasn’t suspended then because of lack of credible evidence.
Less than a week later, while working undercover, Mitchell fatally shot 23-year-old Donna Castleberry while arresting her on prostitution charges. According to Columbus Police, “an altercation occurred” in the back of Mitchell’s unmarked car during which Castleberry stabbed him in the hand. According to the coroner’s report, Mitchell shot Castleberry three times.
Kaitlin Patton, the woman who called 911, said her boyfriend heard Castleberry cry for help, saying Mitchell was going to kidnap her. While running outside, Patton says she heard several shots and saw Mitchell pushing Castleberry’s body into the rear seat. Mitchell then reportedly told Patton he was a police officer and that he was stabbed.
O’Brien declined to comment if the Castleberry incident was connected with Mitchell’s alleged kidnapping.
Castleberry’s shooting, along with the July arrest of porn star Stormy Daniels, led to the department’s freeze and internal probe of Vice Unit operations in September. Then-Chief Kim Jacobs requested help from the FBI in conducting the investigation, and the FBI searched Mitchell’s home later that month in connection with the first complaint.
Mitchell and two other officers were subsequently relieved of duty. No charges have yet been announced against the other two officers, Whitney Lancaster and Steve Rosser. The Vice Unit resumed some operations in December, although undercover work and stings remain suspended.
Columbus Police last week announced they concluded their internal investigation into Daniels’ arrest. Their report concluded that Daniels’ arrest was improper, but not pre-planned or politically motivated.
Daniels filed federal civil rights lawsuits in January against Columbus Police. That same month, Columbus City Council approved a $150,000 settlement for the two women arrested with Daniels, who had also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department.
This article may be updated as the story develops.
If you have information to share about the Vice Unit, contact WOSU at firstname.lastname@example.org.