Former Columbus Police Vice Officer Andrew Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping women and forcing them to have sex under threat of an arrest. Mitchell is currently being held without bond.
In an indictment last week, Justice Department officials also charged Mitchell with witness tampering and lying to federal agents when he said he'd never had sex with prostitutes. Mitchell on Thursday pleaded guilty to those charges as well.
Mitchell entered the pleas at a brief hearing at a federal court in Columbus. His attorney, Mark Collins, asked that a magistrate judge reconsider his order denying Mitchell bond. The government says Mitchell is a flight risk and poses a danger to the community.
"Multiple victims, when asked if they had reported these incidents, consistently responded that they could not 'report it to the police because it was the police,'" Jessica Kim, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in the court filing.
"The defendant further instilled these fears by telling them 'even if you reported me, no one will believe you because you are just a prostitute,'" she said.
In the same filing, Kim said investigators have identified multiple women described as "vulnerable members of our community," among them prostitutes and drug addicts, "who were tenants of the defendant's rental properties and traded sex for free or reduced rent from him."
Collins disputed these arguments, noting that Mitchell has not been charged with such allegations and was allowed to remain with the police department for months after an investigation was launched. Mitchell also stayed put between his March 7 indictment and March 11 arrest, Collins said.
"We certainly hope that the Government would have gotten this dangerous monster off the streets of Columbus before he had the potential to terrorize citizens of Columbus for the entire weekend," Collins quipped in a Monday filing arguing in favor of his release.
In addition, Mitchell has no criminal record, is a lifelong central Ohio resident and is adopting a 3 ½-year old child with his wife, all arguments against him being a danger or a flight risk, Collins said.
Mitchell was a 31-year veteran of Columbus Police, working primarily on solicitation cases. He resigned March 13 in “bad standing” with the department. He had been relieved of duty in September as part of an internal Columbus Police investigation into the Vice Unit, which was dissolved earlier this week.
Mitchell has also been investigated by state authorities but not yet charged for the August 2018 fatal shooting of 23-year-old Donna Castleberry. Castleberry reportedly stabbed Mitchell in his unmarked car while Mitchell was arresting her on prostitution charges.
Mitchell will testify about that case before a grand jury April 4, Collins said, where he's expected to explain why it was a proper use of force.
Castleberry's sister said Thursday that Mitchell should remain behind bars.
"He's been charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice," said Bobbi McCalla. "I'm afraid that if he's allowed to be out amongst the general public, he might continue to those things."
After Mitchell’s indictment last week, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said he dismissed 18 of the officer’s cases charging women with prostitution-related offenses. The office is currently reviewing all open and pending cases solely worked on by Mitchell, as well as past convictions where Mitchell was the sole arresting officer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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