The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a member of the Ohio National Guard, says Gov. Mike DeWine, over allegations they expressed "white supremacist ideology" online before deploying to assist with protest security in Washington, D.C.
In his regular coronavirus briefing Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters the unnamed guard member is suspended from all missions as the investigation continues.
"There is no place in the Ohio National Guard for someone who feels that way and who expresses those opinions," DeWine said.
The state recently sent 100 members of the Ohio National Guard to the nation’s capitol amid ongoing protests over the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis.
DeWine says the unidentified guard member would be permanently removed from duty if the federal investigation confirms the allegations.
“While I fully support everyone's right to free speech, guardsmen and guardswomen are sworn to protect all of us, regardless of race, ethnic background or religion," DeWine said. "Our Ohio National Guard members are in a position of trust and authority during times of crisis. And anyone who displays a malice towards specific groups of Americans has no place in the Ohio National Guard."
DeWine says he’s directed the Guard and Ohio Department of Public Safety to set up a new procedure aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.
National Guard Adjutant Gen. John C. Harris appeared as part of the press conference to discuss the coronavirus, but did not offer any comment related to the guard member’s suspension or the investigation.
The governor says the state is also establishing an Ohio agency to address the health-related and other inequities between white and other Ohioans, known in public health circles as the "social determinants" of health.
He continued to make promises toward improving Ohio police oversight, accreditation, training and accountability requirements in the aftermath of police brutality in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
More Reopenings And Testing
State officials announced Friday that still-shuttered casinos, racinos, amusement parks, water parks and outdoor theaters would be allowed reopen June 19. Reopenings are contingent on businesses providing strict plans to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, such as limiting the number of people permitted inside a venue, one-way traffic signage and enforced sanitation measures.
“They are quite elaborate plans that we believe are consistent with protecting the public and consistent with allowing Ohioans to go about their summer and enjoy their summer in the way that they are used to doing,” DeWine said.
He added plans are in the works for reopening the Memorial Golf Tournament scheduled in July.
The latest Health Department numbers show there are 35,096 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, with another 2,662 probable cases. Hospital officials report 6,385 total hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic.
The number of confirmed deaths stands at 2,135 - up 18 over the day before - with another 220 probable deaths under investigation.
Health officials stress it’s vital for Ohioans to continue efforts to social distance and otherwise help limit the spread of the disease.
Mass coronavirus testing is expected to be available soon. DeWine says the state is working with major pharmacy chains as well as federally qualified community health centers to provide the additional tests. He says expanding the number of virus testing sites in communities of color is underway, with the assistance of the Ohio National Guard, and more details on next steps are expected soon.
Ohio communities of color are among those disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as are nursing facility residents and staff. The National Guard is continuing to assist with testing at nursing homes across the state as well.
The governor repeated his desire for Ohio students to return to classrooms in the fall. He says he’s coordinating plans with the state’s public and private colleges and universities for how to bring students back to campus safely amid the pandemic.