Attorney: Family committed to seeking accountability for Eric Cole’s death

Relatives of a Springfield man who died in 2021 after a police officer drove over him with her cruiser will continue to seek justice, the family attorney said Wednesday, after they learned that a grand jury declined to indict the officer.

The family is “very disappointed” in the grand jury’s decision, said Ben Cooper, a Columbus-based attorney. Although the criminal justice system is a method of accountability, “it’s not the only path,” he said.

“The family is committed to holding those responsible for Eric’s death accountable,” Cooper said.

Eric Eugene Cole died on June 14, 2021, the day after the incident, from blunt-force trauma to the torso, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. His death was ruled an accident.

“We respect the grand jury’s finding and hope that Tuesday’s proceeding will lead our community further along in the healing process,” said Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck. “The Springfield Police Division will integrate the Ohio Attorney General’s investigative findings into its own internal probe, which has been ongoing since the accident last year. Mr. Cole’s family remains in our thoughts and prayers, and we call on the community to respect their privacy in the wake of Tuesday’s grand jury conclusion.”

Police initially received a 911 call around 11:22 p.m. on June 13, 2021, that sent officers to the 1400 block of South Center Boulevard on a report of someone shot. Officer Amanda Rosales was the first officer to respond to the scene and was “involved in an accident” with Cole, according to police.

Rosales remains on paid administrative leave, a Springfield city spokesperson confirmed.

Cole was flown to Miami Valley Hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

“We’re talking about a loss of life, and every loss of life is tragic,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said during a press conference Wednesday. “Nobody deserves to die, and I’m very sad about these facts. My heart goes out to the friends and the family of Eric Cole.”

Rosales was traveling about 17 miles per hour when she hit Cole, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Anthony Pierson. The officer reportedly said she did not see Cole in the street because she was looking at addresses. The houses on the street do not have mailboxes and the addresses are at different spots on the porch or house, Pierson said.

In a 911 call, Cole is heard telling dispatchers he was shot in the arm and was in the middle of the street.

“I’m outside in the street,” he said. “I’m in the middle of the street.”

Later in the call, sirens can he heard in the background before Cole says he was hit. When the dispatch asked who hit him, Cole responded, “The police.”

The dispatcher did not say Cole was in the street verbally over radio traffic, but put it in the run notes that show up on the police officer’s computer, Pierson said.

Rosales was in the cruiser alone. It’s “fairly common” for an officer to be working by themselves in a cruiser, Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf said during a Wednesday conference.

The majority of SPD units are single-officer units, Graf said. The unit numbers of a vehicle tell dispatchers if the unit is a single-officer vehicle or a two-person unit.

Springfield police investigated the shooting, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol investigated the cruiser striking Cole.

The attorney general’s office served as a special prosecutor and used the investigation from Springfield police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol to construct a case that was presented from a grand jury.

Pierson presented reckless vehicular homicide and negligent vehicular homicide charges to the grand jury.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The two charges were presented to the grand jury because there was evidence that a crime could have occurred, Pierson said. The grand jury did not feel there was enough probable cause of a crime.

During interviews with medics, there was no indication EMS crews were told Cole was hit by the cruiser, Pierson said. However, he did not find any evidence of a cover-up by police or that the knowledge Cole was hit by a car would result in any other outcome for him, he added.

Yost said “of course” police should have communicated that Cole was ran over to medics on the scene, but any changes in policy would be up to Springfield Police Department and the city.

He noted while there are many things that are horrible and tragic in life, it may not violate a criminal statute. Yost added: “Some wrongs are civil” and can still be addressed in court even if it is not criminal.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Graf said that he respects and accepts the decision of the grand jury. He said that if a civil suit comes forward, his office will cooperate “in any way it can.”

“Our hearts go out to the Cole Family,” Graf said. “This is a tragedy, and family and friends are hurting out of this incident.”

Cole and his girlfriend argued earlier that evening and she broke up with him, Yost said. Cole reportedly got a gun and went to find her.

“He brandished the firearm, made threats and fired it several times and wounded another man,” the attorney general said. “Basically, he went out and created his own personal wild west in Springfield.”

At one point, Cole shot at two brothers while he was in a borrowed vehicle on West Liberty Street, Pierson said. One of the brothers returned fire and shot Cole in the arm.

Cole drove away and returned the vehicle. He reportedly left a handgun and sweatshirt at the same place.

While leaving the residence, he called 911 and reported he was shot. During that call the cruiser ran over him.

Cole’s death sparked protests in Springfield by family, friends and community members.

The patrol’s crash report said, “(the police cruiser) was driving south on South Center Boulevard in emergency response. (The police cruiser) struck a pedestrian (Cole) laying in the roadway.”

The crash report stated Rosales was in emergency response with her overhead lights activated, and was distracted by something outside of the vehicle.

At the time, Graf said Rosales did not see Cole on the street because she was reportedly looking at houses for addresses and the officer stopped immediately and began to render aid after the incident.

The Springfield chapter of the NAACP president, Denise Williams, said her heart goes out to the family of Cole and “everyone else involved.”

Williams said that although criminal charges were declined, civil action could still be pursued.

“I feel she should still be held accountable in some capacity,” she said.