Black Paraplegic Man Threatens Lawsuit After Cops Drag Him from Car

Horrific police abuse was on display in Dayton, Ohio, on September 30. White officers dragged a black paraplegic man from his car after he calmly explained he could not get out under his own power. Police body camera footage shows cops pulling Clifford Owensby, age 39, from the driver’s seat of his vehicle by the arm and by his hair. They placed him on the pavement and, as his pants fell around his ankles, handcuffed him “in order to secure him,” according to the Dayton Police Department. Owensby’s three-year-old son was in the back seat at the time.

In a press conference, covered by, Owensby said, "They dragged me like a dog, like trash. It was total humiliation . . . [i]t was hatred at its purest fashion." USA Today reported that Owensby “received scrapes from the pavement and re-injured a previous back problem during the incident. He said he hopes ‘for some kind of disciplinary action.’"

The incident occurred after police, while observing a "suspected drug house," saw Owensby’s car leave the scene. After a traffic stop, officers flagged Owensby for his "felony drug and weapon history" and requested a narcotics detection K-9 to perform a "free-air sniff," where a police dog circles the vehicle to sniff for narcotics. A policy required occupants to leave a vehicle prior to the test.

Owensby told police he was unable to get out of the car because he is a paraplegic. He warned officers there "will be a lawsuit if you put your hands on me for no reason." Officers had no answer, other than to double down on their demands. An officer is heard saying, "You're getting out of this car. So, you can cooperate and get out of the car, or I will drag you out of the car. Do you see your two options here?"

Clearly, in their rigid adherence to departmental policy, officers forgot something called the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens are innocent until proven guilty. Given their rough treatment of Owensby, we might expect police to refer serious charges. But cops made no drug-related charges. Although “a police report cited misdemeanors of obstructing official business and resisting arrest,” Dayton police have declined to charge Owensby with either count.

The New York Times reported that “Mr. Owensby was charged with two misdemeanors: having tinted windows and failing to have his son in a car seat.” Police claim “a bag containing $22,450 in cash was found in Owensby's car, which the sniffer dog indicated had been near illegal drugs.” Yet, the presence of a large amount of money, which the police had not yet discovered at the time, cannot justify throwing a paraplegic on the pavement in full view of his toddler son.

Even if we concede Owensby was being deliberately obstructive and uncooperative, and escalated the situation by calling on his cellphone for witnesses to come and observe the stop, the failure of police to come up with a civil work-around the policy is damning. Matt Carper, the police department’s interim director and chief, was forced to admit as much.

Carper conceded, “We need to do better, and this can be done by further developing the mutual respect and accountability to make our city safer.” Carper said officers will receive training in “diversity, equity and inclusion as well as de-escalation, bias-free policing and procedural justice.”

Training is all well and good, but what matters is what happens out on the streets. Derrick Forward, president of the NAACP's Dayton Chapter characterized this incident as "a total disregard for human life." We might add human dignity. To paraphrase Mr. Carper, Dayton must do better.