As his administration continues to withhold details about the roles 37 troopers played at the pipeline protest in North Dakota last fall, Ohio Gov. John Kasich confirmed last week that he approved sending them.
"They can’t go there on their own, they have to ask me," Kasich said, referring to Ohio State Highway Patrol, during an April 10 meeting with The Enquirer's editorial board.
It might seem obvious for this power to rest with the governor, but until Monday, Kasich's office had not provided a straight answer as to who authorized the mutual aid trip.
The two-week deployment from Oct. 31 to Nov. 16 was immediately controversial around the state. Members of the public and a majority of Cincinnati City Council asked Kasich to recall the officers.
As the highway patrol has refused to release details and records about Ohio's role in the situation, tensions have grown.
The state denied requests for information from both The Enquirer and the Columbus Dispatch, based on claims by state lawyers that the officers were undercover and providing security in a situation that could "prevent ... or respond to acts of terrorism."
Since then, videos have emerged of troopers spraying the protesters with chemicals and arming themselves before rushing in riot gear, in their state-owned cars, to clashes with protesters.
Last month, the Dispatch learned officers had used force against protestors.
A record was released "showing that a review by superiors found that the troopers’ use of force on the protesters was appropriate and within patrol policy," according to the Dispatch article.
The state contends, however, that the public is not entitled to know either the frequency or type of force used, despite recommendations for transparency issued by the Ohio Collaborative Police-Community Advisory Board in 2015. The advisory board was organized with an executive order by Kasich, in response to clashes in Ohio and around the nation between police and the public.
A Columbus lawyer, Fred Gittes, told the Dispatch: “They are thumbing their noses at the Ohio Supreme Court, which has repeatedly made it clear that use-of-force reports are public records. We can never learn what they did? We are now openly espousing having secret police.”
North Dakota will reimburse Ohio for the cost of the mission, which totaled $653,000. It was North Dakota, not Ohio, that released the document that outlined costs.
On Monday, Kasich also told the Enquirer editorial board, troopers "went a second time, too."
But an Ohio Highway Patrol spokesman said the governor was mistaken. "There wasn't a second deployment," Lt. Robert Sellers said.
The Enquirer has challenged the state's denial to provide a copy of the contract with North Dakota and the names of the deployed troopers.
An attempt to mediate the situation ended in stalemate in March.
It is now up to a special master, assigned to the case, to decide whether the state should release the records.
Attorney General Mike DeWine's office, which submitted the response to The Enquirer's complaint after mediation failed, said a release of the records would put troopers and their families at risk.
Threats were regarded as serious enough that "Highway Patrol commanders instructed Troopers to remove name tags from their uniforms and remove any identifying numbers or license plates from the patrol vehicles deployed to North Dakota," lawyers for DeWine's office wrote.
"This is not a common practice," the state's response said.
Such matters must remain private, DeWine's office argued, because Ohio may use them in the future.
"Direct threats to Ohio and its law enforcement is not hypothetical: protests have been staged in Ohio in response to the (DAPL) pipeline, and a pipeline is planned for construction in northern Ohio in the coming year," DeWine's lawyers wrote. "Therefore these operational response plans will not only be used by North Dakota in the future, but also may be used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in future protest details."
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved