Vice squad officer accused of falsely arresting women, forcing them to have sex

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By: CBS News, Associated Press
March 12, 2019

A longtime police officer forced women to have sex with him under the guise of an arrest, pressured others to help cover up crimes, and lied to federal investigators when he said he'd never had sex with prostitutes, according to charges unveiled Monday. Columbus vice squad Officer Andrew Mitchell, 55, is under arrest on federal charges including witness tampering, obstruction of justice, making a false statement to federal investigators, and deprivation of rights under color of law, the language used to describe crimes committed by police officers while on duty.

The federal indictment accuses Mitchell of arresting two different women and forcing them to have sex before he would release them. According to the indictment, he's been employed with the Columbus Division of Police since 1988 and has been assigned to the Vice Unit since March 2017, where his duties included prostitution arrests. A grand jury indicted Mitchell on March 7, reports CBS affiliate WBNS.

The indictment outlines a July 2017 incident in which Mitchell allegedly kidnapped one of the victims under the guise of an arrest and transported her to a location where he forced her to perform a sex act for her freedom. It describes two other similar incidents with the second victim in September 2017 and the summer of 2018.

Mitchell is also accused of attempting to tamper with two additional victims who are witnesses in the case, and he allegedly attempted to sway or prevent the grand jury testimony of a fifth victim.

Later, during the federal investigation, Mitchell allegedly lied when he told the FBI he'd never had sex with a prostitute, since Mitchell knew "he has had sex with numerous prostitutes, including having paid women money for sex," according to the indictment.

The charges were the latest black eye for the city's vice squad, which has also been under scrutiny since last year's arrest of porn actress Stormy Daniels. Charges were dropped hours later.

Earlier this year, Daniels sued several Columbus police officers for $2 million over that arrest. Daniels' federal defamation lawsuit alleges that officers conspired to retaliate against her because of her claims she had sex with Donald Trump before he became president.

Last week, an internal police investigation concluded Daniels' arrest was improper, but not planned or politically motivated.

In Mitchell's case, committing the alleged crimes while on duty is "a nightmarish breach of trust," said Ben Glassman, the U.S. attorney for the southern half of Ohio.

"We rely on the police to serve and protect us, and when you have a police officer who commits a crime, that is a very serious breach of trust," he said.

Police officers take an oath to the Constitution and promise to obey federal, state and local laws, said Thomas Quinlan, interim Columbus police chief.

"The community has every right to be disgusted by the news, as well as everyone who wears this badge," he said.

Mitchell plans to fight the charges and enter a not guilty plea, his attorney said Monday.

"These allegations are unfounded, and my client is going to exercise his right to a jury trial in the federal system," Collins said. His understanding, he said, is that the alleged victims named in the indictment were prostitutes.

Mitchell appeared in federal court Monday and was ordered held until a detention hearing Wednesday, reports the Columbus Post-Dispatch.

Mitchell has also been investigated by state authorities after police said he fatally shot a woman who stabbed him in the hand while sitting in his unmarked police car. Donna Castleberry, 23, had struggled with drugs and was likely working as a prostitute, her family has said. She left behind two young daughters.

"Our family has been asking questions for a long time," said Mary Laile, a cousin of Castleberry's. "We miss her everyday and days like today feel like a success, but then we remember that we still do not have Donna with us, so it's hard to really view it as a successful day."

Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Monday he expects to take that case to a grand jury soon.

The Columbus Post-Dispatch reports Mitchell was relieved of duty in September after the launch of an investigation into the vice unit by the FBI's public corruption task force, which is ongoing.