Former vice officer Andrew Mitchell pleads not guilty to murder, manslaughter charges

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COLUMBUS — Former vice officer Andrew Mitchell wore a protective vest as he stood before a judge Friday to be arraigned on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter.

The charges stem from the fatal shooting of Donna Castleberry last August during an alleged prostitution sting.

Mitchell’s attorney, Mark Collins, entered a not guilty plea on Mitchell’s behalf and would only say that Mitchell’s attire was a decision by the Franklin County sheriff’s office after he had a general conversation about people who harm themselves.

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A sheriff’s spokesman told 10 Investigates that is standard procedure any time there is any indication of self-harm.

“The conversation was about self-harm and people who do those things to themselves and that nature. I don’t want to go into specifics…” Mitchell’s attorney Mark Collins said. “He’s doing great and looking forward to defending himself.”

Collins said Mitchell was disappointed by the grand jury’s decision to indict him Thursday and said that his client’s use of force during his attempt to arrest Donna Castleberry on August 23, 2018, was justified based on the circumstances.

“His job was to arrest her, number one; once he felt his life was in danger, once he has to respond. It’s not as though you can just stop and flee from the car, that’s not what the police do,” Collins said.

“After you have been stabbed and you have a gash from there down and after, and you have a foot under your throat where (Castleberry) has positioned her back to the windshield and she’s choking him out and you are about to lose consciousness, your training kicks in. (Mitchell) reached for his weapon he undid his seatbelt and he did what he thought was appropriate at that time,” Collins told reporters.

But Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien argued in newly released court documents that Mitchell’s use of deadly force “was far beyond the scope necessary to protect himself from any additional harm from Donna Castleberry.”

At the time of the shooting, police said that Castleberry stabbed Mitchell in the hand and that Mitchell returned fire.

But in a motion to hold Mitchell in custody without bond, O’Brien argues Castleberry did not know that Andrew Mitchell was a vice officer, noting that “when she questioned his status as a police officer and asked for his badge” he was unable to produce one since he left it on a uniform used for special duty. The motion also says he did have his “walkie” radio with him.

Castleberry expressed concern that she was being kidnapped and would be raped rather than arrested because she did not believe he was a police officer, the court record states.

“When, despite the lack of his badge, he attempted to handcuff her, Ms. Castleberry resisted the arrest and cut the defendant with a knife in the palm of his hand,” the motion states.

O’Brien said that Castleberry attempted to escape to the backseat of Mitchell’s undercover vehicle but she was locked in due to the child safety locks being activated.

“He was in the front seat, she was in the backseat, the door was open, his seatbelt was unbuckled, he could exit and wait for a marked cruiser to arrive at which time she could be assured that he was a law enforcement officer as opposed to being fearful that he wasn’t,” O’Brien told reporters. “ The need to shoot her six times, the state argues that was not justified.”

Autopsy records show that Castleberry was struck by three bullets, including one to her chest that killed her.

O’Brien said that the audio recording from Mitchell’s cell phone was sent to a lab in Washington D.C. to be enhanced and through the help of Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, they were able to sync up surveillance video from a nearby building with the audio from Mitchell’s phone, which recorded both their conversation and the shooting.

“It’s a strong piece of evidence that we will present in the case,” O’Brien told reporters. “Being pinned into the backseat, that is not a lawful use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer. You have to be in fear of your life.”

But Mitchell’s attorney Mark Collins said that a relatively new Ohio law would place the burden on the prosecutor’s office to prove that the shooting of Castleberry was not self-defense.

“This case comes down to what happened in that car and not what was her belief. Whether she believed he was a police officer or not, it’s what was his belief — whether or not it was reasonable for him to believe his life was in danger,” Collins said.

Collins did not oppose the prosecutor’s motion that Mitchell be held without bond. Mitchell is currently facing separate federal charges that accuse him of abusing his police powers. Federal prosecutors allege that he coaxed women into sex under the threat of their arrest.

They also point out in their argument that Mitchell should remain behind bars while awaiting trial, saying he is a flight risk and that he is a danger to the community.

Mitchell owns several rental properties and federal prosecutors allege he rented them to prostitutes and would allow them to forgo paying rent in exchange for sex.

Mitchell declined to comment on the serious allegations against him when questioned by 10 Investigates in October.

He retired from the Columbus Division of Police last month, one day after federal charges against him were announced.

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