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Columbus police chief stands behind officer who high-fived a Proud Boy member during protest

Proud boys protest a drag-themed holiday event hosted by a school in Clintonville
Mathew Rand/WOSU
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Elaine Bryant, chief of the Columbus Division of Police, is supporting an officer who was seen high-fiving a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys at a weekend protest.

Video of the encounter went viral on social media, with many criticizing Sgt. Steven Dyer for having such an interaction with a group known for embracing violence. When a counter-protester approached Dyer to ask why he offered a friendly greeting to one of the Proud Boys, Dyer responded “to build relationships.” He went on to say, “I am not supporting their cause, I am not here hanging out with them. I am here to support their right to protest.”

Dyer is a member of the division’s dialogue team, which seeks to diffuse tense situations like protests.

In a pre-recorded message posted Monday, Chief Bryant offered her support for Dyer, saying he acted appropriately. "By establishing trust through direct communication, the dialogue team helped facilitate a peaceful protest that ended with zero arrests, no uses of force and no injuries for all parties involved," Bryant said.

She went on to say that Dyer’s action were not an endorsement of the Proud Boys or any other hate groups.

"We will not stand for extremist groups to come into this city and cause violence. We will always be present. We will always protect the right to protest and we will always try to make sure free speech is exercised in a peaceful way," Bryant said.

Red Oak Community School changed course Saturday morning with a last-minute cancellation of the Holi-Drag Storytime event, which was supposed to be hosted at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville. School manager Cheryl Ryan said she had tried for a week to contact the Columbus Division of Police, leaving multiple voicemails about the threats the group was receiving.
"After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty officer, who may or may not show up because they're understaffed," Ryan said.

Ryan also talked about what she called the "long documented and lived history of law enforcement doing harm to the LGBTQ community."

The school posted a statement on social media on Monday announcing its plan to host another event.

A statement from Columbus police called Ryan’s comment “incorrect,” saying police worked with the school for several days before the school canceled its request for a special-duty officer.

Steve Brown grew up in nearby Richwood, Ohio and now lives there with his wife and sons. He started his journalism career as a weekend board operator at WOSU while majoring in journalism at Ohio State, where he also wrote for the student newspaper The Lantern and co-founded the organization Students for Public Broadcasting.