COLUMBUS, Ohio – A news photographer accidentally shot by an Ohio sheriff's deputy last year disputes the agency's assertion in investigative reports that his presence at police scenes in the past was a problem.
A grand jury last month declined to indict Clark County Deputy Jacob Shaw for shooting Andy Grimm in September after mistaking the photographer's tripod for a rifle.
Grimm survived the shooting. He has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Shaw and the sheriff's department. The suit seeks at least $75,000 in damages.
Two Clark County Sheriff's Office sergeants and a deputy spoke of concerns about Grimm and his presence at police stops in interviews with investigators obtained by The Associated Press through a records request.
A sheriff's office major and the sheriff herself also noted concerns they'd heard over the years about the photographer.
"Andy, what are you doing? I had my duty weapon out! You can't run up on our cars!" Sgt. Robert Trimble told Grimm, according to Trimble's interview with state investigators about an incident last spring.
Trimble told investigators he parked in a police-only parking lot about 10 p.m. at agency headquarters in Springfield, about 43 miles (69 kilometers) west of Columbus, when he saw an unfamiliar minivan. He was getting out of his car when a figure "quickly darted" in his direction. Trimble said he unholstered his weapon fearing an attack before recognizing Grimm.
Grimm and his father, who own KBA News, LLC, a chain of weekly newspapers, say they have covered the sheriff's agency and other police departments for years without problems and have received consistent praise. No one at the paper has ever been notified of a negative interaction with police or a situation where officers felt uncomfortable, they told the AP.
"We have only received positive comments," the Grimms said in a statement. They note their relationship with the Clark County Sheriff's Office has been strained since the Sept. 4 shooting and they now have trouble getting information from the agency.
"Nevertheless, we will continue to cover local events honestly, fairly and truthfully," the Grimms said.
Sheriff Deborah Burchett did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
According to records reviewed by the AP:
— Deputy Nick Moody told investigators he wasn't comfortable with Grimm's approach in January 2017 while conducting a traffic stop. The driver of a van later identified as Grimm slowly "circled his location twice" before stopping, Moody said.
— Sgt. Ralph Underwood said he warned Grimm after the photographer arrived at a deputy's traffic stop about two years ago and took pictures, with the deputy expressing concerns about the incident.
— Major Andy Reynolds told investigators "other deputies have expressed issues with Grimm," though he couldn't identify them, records showed. Burchett told investigators "she was aware that other deputies from the department may have cautioned Grimm in the past on such behavior of poor tactics, but she was not aware of the exact details of the encounters."
Prosecutors presented the grand jury with four potential charges, but no indictment was filed, said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which handled the case. She wouldn't identify the four charges jurors considered.
Grimm was driving to photograph a lightning storm on the night of Sept. 4 when he stopped in downtown New Carlisle and began setting up to shoot a traffic stop. Before Grimm could take a photo, Shaw got out of his cruiser and, within a second, fired two shots, hitting Grimm in the chest and grazing his shoulder.
Video from Shaw's body camera indicates he realized his mistake while rushing to help Grimm, who he knew.
"Andy, I'm sorry, brother," Shaw said. "Listen, dude, you pulled that out like a gun out of the back of the Jeep." A minute later, he tells Grimm: "I thought it was a freaking gun, Andy."
Grimm is heard trying to explain that he waved at Shaw and flashed his car lights, but also takes responsibility, saying, "it's my fault."
Grimm underwent surgery at a Dayton hospital and was released the next day.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.