Rally to Support Law Enforcement Postponed Because New Rules Made Event Unsafe, Organizers Say

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A rally organized by Ohio Gun Owners (OGO) to support law enforcement was postponed by its organizers who allege they were denied protections they’d previously received at rallies despite being warned that BLM and Antifa counter-protestors would attend the event scheduled for last Saturday.

OGO Executive Director Chris Dorr told The Ohio Star, “In the past we’d get gating out by High Street and on the west side of the Statehouse. We requested this again, and our request was approved.”

But less than 48 hours before the event, Dorr said he received two calls from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The first was to advise that officers found evidence on websites that counter-protestors had organized and their attendance “was going to happen.” The second call was to advise Dorr that the gating he requested was not going to be provided except for a spot around the speaker’s podium.

“Not only were we not allowed to have gating, if someone came into the venue – which we had paid for, reserved by going through the application process – we were not allowed to kick them out of our event if they started to disrupt the peace, which is what we were allowed to do previously,” Dorr said.

He added, “I asked them point-blank, ‘Are you telling me that if they do what they’ve done in the past, which is whip out their bullhorns and stand there amongst our people, that we’re not allowed to remove them?’ They’re like – ‘Yeah, that’s correct. The State Patrol is not allowed to; and, quite frankly, it’s a free speech issue and neither are you guys.'”

Dorr said that he was told there were policy changes made on the advice of lawyers at the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board and Ohio State Highway Patrol. He felt those changers were going to put the public in danger, so he postponed the event.

“Our events are patriotic, kids on the lawn, people giving stump speeches – it’s as Americana is it can be. But you throw in the Antifa people – and some, not all, but some of them are provocateurs,” Dorr said; adding, “I was there last summer when we tried to clean the graffiti off the Statehouse property. Once they saw that I was Chris Dorr, an open critic of theirs, they whipped out their bullhorn and were hurling all kinds of vulgarities – very foul-mouthed.

“The idea that they were going to be allowed to stand right next to wives and kids; and given the number of people we expected, if something did go wrong then the imbalance of power alone would mean that we’d be at risk for being villainized around the country.”

Ohio State Highway Patrol Staff Lieutenant Craig Cvetan was contacted about the supposed meeting between OSHP and Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB), the group charged with the health and safety of people who work and visit the Statehouse, and asked to elaborate on why the fencing was denied.

Cvetan told The Star, “CSRAB is responsible for permitted events, what restrictions are in place and what can be placed on the Statehouse grounds. The Ohio State Highway Patrol is the lead agency for security at the Ohio Statehouse. The Patrol had plans in place to provide a safe environment at the statehouse for this event. I cannot discuss the specifics of those plans, however I can tell you the necessary measures were in place to ensure everyone would have the ability to exercise their constitutional rights safely.”

Ohio State Senator and Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Hottinger (R-District 31) is Chairman of the CSRAB Board of Directors was asked if there was a policy change for this event only or if there was a permanent change.

Hottinger’s initial response did not address the question regarding policy changes and stated that security would have been provided but “under the opinion that not enough security was going to be provided for one of their speakers.”  Consequently, he said, OGO chose to cancel the event.

When asked a second time if there was a policy change at CRSAB, Hottinger responded, “There has not been any change in CSRAB policy and the Ohio State Highway Patrol was positioned to keep everyone safe. I can’t speak for the organizers on their decision to cancel the event.”

The Star contacted CSRAB Executive Director Laura Battocletti who said there has been “no change in policy.”

“The people I’m interfacing with are saying ‘don’t blame me, it’s legislative counsel.’  Then legislative counsel is like, ‘well, I don’t call the shots, it’s further up the line.’ There’s a loss of responsibility along the path they take advantage of,” said Dorr.  “They may say there wasn’t a policy change but the reality is I couldn’t get fencing out to high street and couldn’t remove people if they became disruptive – that’s a change.”

“Politics has superseded the law. You were never allowed to take the streets and highways – that required a permit. And that was for the safety of bystanders, pedestrians and people holding the events,” said Columbus Police Officer Jeff Simpson, Executive Vice President Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9.

Dorr echoed Simpson’s comment: “If anyone can be in the space that you reserve by going through the legal process and paying for it, then why bother with permitting?” Dorr said that there’s national precedent that allows people to be in the same place at the same time but provides safer ways of doing it than what the CSRAB was going to allow.

“This isn’t the first time that political violence has been threatened in order to achieve a certain goal. There’s precedent in the past for ‘free speech zones,’ or designated protest zones. I think about Presidential campaigns, Democrat and Republican alike, if you want to protest there’s a designated zone for that,” said Dorr.

He also referenced his experience at an NRA convention where “there was a designated protest zone for people to stand. They had to go across the street.”

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Jack Windsor is Statehouse Reporter at The Ohio Star. Windsor is also an independent investigative reporter. Follow Jack on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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