COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The family of a woman shot to death by a Columbus vice officer while sitting in the officer’s unmarked car says it’s still waiting for answers nearly two months after the shooting.
Veteran officer Andrew Mitchell shot 23-year-old Donna Castleberry on Aug. 23 after she stabbed him in the hand while sitting in an unmarked police car, according to police.
Castleberry faced a single misdemeanor soliciting charge from a July 25 arrest not far from where she died. She offered to have sex with an undercover police officer for $50. Her family says Castleberry had struggled with drugs and was likely working the streets as a prostitute. She left behind two young daughters.
“We don’t feel it was necessary to take the life of a young woman who you had trapped in a car,” said Castleberry’s cousin, Mary Laile. “When you’re a 30-year veteran of a police force, I would assume that you can handle yourself a little bit better regardless of a hand injury.”
Castleberry was a friendly outgoing person who always made people feel welcome, Laile said.
Laile, Castleberry’s parents and other supporters rallied outside police headquarters Oct. 23 demanding answers.
“Homicide detectives have contacted the family of Ms. Castleberry and they are working with the prosecutor to complete the investigation in a thorough and timely manner,” said police spokeswoman Sgt. Chantay Boxill.
In September, Police Chief Kim Jacobs suspended the vice squad’s street-level duties, and the FBI took over an investigation of the unit at Jacob’s request.
“Recent high profile incidents have brought forward a variety of allegations against the Vice Section via social media postings and other sources,” the department said Sept. 27 in announcing the involvement of the FBI.
Those incidents include the July arrest of porn actress Stormy Daniels at a Columbus strip club. Police who support President Donald Trump conspired to arrest Daniels in retribution for her allegation she had an affair with Trump before he became president, according to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of two other women arrested that night.
The union representing Columbus officers has denied the arrest was politically motivated.
In the case of Castleberry’s death, the woman who called 911 and gave Mitchell her shirt to wrap around his bleeding hand said she ran outside after her boyfriend heard Castleberry cry for help, saying Mitchell was going to kidnap her.
Kaitlin Patton then heard several shots, and as she arrived at the car, saw Mitchell pushing Castleberry’s folded-over body into the rear seat as if to hide it. Catching sight of her, Mitchell told her he was a police officer, that he’d been stabbed, and to call 911, Patton, 27, said Monday.
“I think that he was about to jump back in the car and take off,” Patton told The Associated Press. A coroner’s report shows Castleberry was shot three times.
Police say Mitchell was under investigation for alleged criminal misconduct before the fatal shooting. He was relieved of duty with pay earlier this month. That investigation is ongoing. The FBI searched Mitchell’s house Sept. 26.
Messages were left for the attorney representing Mitchell in the shooting. Mark Collins, an attorney representing Mitchell in the separate FBI investigation, declined to comment.
Last week, WBNS-TV reported that police have responded to rental properties owned by Mitchell more than 500 times in the past five years for criminal complaints ranging from homicides to sex crimes, child endangerment and at least one vice complaint.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
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