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Family of Donna Castleberry files wrongful death lawsuit against Andrew Mitchell, city of Columbus

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, is seeking $3.5 million following the death of Donna Castleberry – who was fatally shot during an alleged prostitution sting on August 23, 2018.
Credit: Family of Donna Castleberry

COLUMBUS (WBNS) – The family of a Columbus woman shot and killed last year by a former vice officer Andrew Mitchell has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mitchell, 25 other Columbus Police officers, along with Columbus’ mayor and former police chief.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, is seeking $3.5 million following the death of Donna Castleberry – who was fatally shot during an alleged prostitution sting on August 23, 2018.

The lawsuit alleges that Mitchell, who was charged with Castleberry’s murder this spring, held her captive in his unmarked police car behind a building on Hale Avenue during an alleged prostitution sting.

It also alleges that there were “other red flags about Mitchell and other officers in the Vice Unit had been raised and were known to or should have been known to the City, Jacobs and (John Doe officers)…”

The lawsuit goes on to state: “By way of illustration and not limitation, the unconstitutional arrest of Stormy Daniels and others should have caused an immediate review of the Vice Unit. Unfortunately, that review came way too late for Donna because Mitchell had not been relieved of his badge and gun and the Vice Unit went unchallenged until Donna’s death. The harm visited upon Donna by Mitchell resulted from the failure of the City, Jacobs and/or Doe to act to relieve Mitchell of his gun and badge when they had a duty to do so because any reasonable employer or supervisor would have done so.”

At the time of Castleberry’s death, Columbus Police said that Andrew Mitchell used force and opened fire after Castleberry pulled a knife and cut him during an altercation.

Castleberry’s family has questioned the deadly use of force and suggested that Mitchell should not have been on police duty that day because he was already the focus of a separate criminal probe by his own department for allegedly abusing his police powers.

Mitchell resigned from the force in March around the same time he was indicted on federal charges of abusing his badge. Federal prosecutors have alleged that he coerced women into sexual acts under the threat of arrest. Some of the women were people he was investigating – others were those who he rented apartments, federal prosecutors allege.

The lawsuit, filed on Castleberry’s behalf, suggests that Castleberry did not believe Mitchell was an officer: “Andrew Mitchell did not have his CPD issued walkie with him. Upon information and belief, CPD regulations require an undercover and/or plainclothes officers acting in a covert capacity to carry their walkie at all times for officer safety and to talk with back up. Upon information and belief, Mitchell was working without backup at the time he was engaged with Donna. Upon information and belief, Donna who was aware that a law enforcement officer should have his badge, ID and walkie with him while working undercover expressed and/or held the good faith honest and reasonable belief that she was being kidnapped and would be raped rather than be arrested because she did not believe that Mitchell was a police officer.”

The lawsuit goes on to state: “Donna’s fear, fright, anxiety, terror, anguish and concern was so great that it became debilitating. Upon information and belief, nevertheless, while seated in the front seat and/or partially outside of the vehicle, Mitchell chose to produce a hand-gun, point it at Donna, who was unable to escape, and shoot Donna six or more times, causing her extreme, severe, debilitating fear, fright, anxiety, terror, anguish, concern and pain.”

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga involving Columbus Division of Police’s now-defunct vice unit.

Former Police Chief Kim Jacobs placed the activities of the vice unit on hold last September following Castleberry’s death and the controversial arrest of adult film star Stormy Daniels. Mitchell, along with two other vice officers – Steve Rosser and Whitney Lancaster – were removed of duties. Mitchell resigned from the department in March. Rosser and Lancaster could still face discipline for concerns over their investigations inside Columbus strip clubs. Their supervisors could also face discipline.

The vice unit was dismantled this spring.

Messages were left with CPD and the Mayor’s office Friday seeking comment.

You can view the full lawsuit by clicking here.