A Columbia police officer has been disciplined over the wrongful arrest of a Smithton Middle School student whose mother contended she was targeted because of her race.
Police spokesman Jeff Pitts confirmed in an email that Officer Tony Ash “received discipline” after the Columbia Police Department’s Internal Affairs office sustained a complaint from the mother. Pitts did not provide further details about the nature of the disciplinary action and noted that both Ash and the mother “will have the opportunity to appeal the outcome.”
The mother of the student, Kandas Holmes-Barnes, said Thursday she’s glad that the police sustained the complaint, which was referred to the Internal Affairs office by the Human Rights Commission. Holmes-Barnes filed a complaint at that agency in May, alleging that her daughter, who is black, had been racially profiled.
“I don’t want this to happen to any other child,” Holmes-Barnes said. “I want everyone who was involved to be held accountable.”
The investigation came from a Jan. 10 altercation at Smithton that involved multiple students. Ash arrested Holmes-Barnes’ daughter on assault charges after several school officials told him she attacked a student who ended up being treated for injuries. That later turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The 14-year-old was released following a night in juvenile detention after police received exculpatory evidence.
The Internal Affairs investigation documents, which the Missourian obtained from Holmes-Barnes, show that Ash made the arrest after talking to two school staff members who told him the eighth-grader was involved in the fight. He told the investigator that he didn’t take notes while interviewing those witnesses. Ash also learned that the school’s surveillance cameras didn’t capture the fight. But he decided to charge the the eighth-grader with second-degree assault based on the statements he gathered and the victim’s “significant injury,” the report said.
Ash did not obtain statements from other school officials who were on the scene of the altercation — including Smithton Principal Chris Drury, who broke up the fight, the Internal Affairs documents show. Instead, he asked for written statements. There is no indication anywhere in Ash’s statement or in the report that he obtained a written statement from the school principal.
Ash later received “contradicting written statements” from school officials who had initially accused Holmes-Barnes’ daughter, as well as a student video of the fight that did not show the girl involved, the Internal Affairs report said.
According to previous Missourian reporting, the experience had long-lasting impact on the eighth grader who was wrongly arrested. When the 14-year-old came back to school, she faced bullying from peers who made fun of her for being arrested. She was then prescribed an antidepressant by a school-sanctioned program. The girl repeatedly complained about the effects from the drugs and took a “life-threatening amount” in April.
Holmes-Barnes acknowledged that the police department has been “responsive” and treating her “with dignity and respect,” but she also said the department didn’t disclose any details about the disciplinary measures taken against Ash.
The complaint is classified as a class II investigation. According to the police department’s policy manual, such investigations “may result in a written reprimand or more severe disciplinary actions,” including suspension, demotion and termination. Columbia’s municipal code, section 21-51, requires the police chief to provide “written notice of the decision and any disciplinary action” to all of the parties.
The letter to Holmes-Barnes said her complaint had been sustained but provided no other details. She said she will fight for more information.
“I want to know everything that happens to that officer,” Holmes-Barnes said.
Ash is a student resource officer for all six of the Columbia school district’s middle schools. He has been employed by the Columbia Police Department since 2005, police records show.
The complaint Holmes-Barnes filed with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in May, alleging racial discrimination against her daughter by the school district, remains pending. She said the school district has recently filed for another extension on the case, and there is no update on the investigation.