A former Ohio vice cop accused of demanding sex from women in exchange for their freedom has pleaded guilty on federal charges related to kidnapping, after being cleared earlier this year of murder and voluntary manslaughter charges in a similar but separate incident.

Andrew Mitchell, a longtime officer with the Columbus Division of Police, has pleaded guilty to two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and one count of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors have recommended he be sentenced to seven to 11 years in federal prison.

The behavior that got Mitchell here is exactly the kind of thing sex workers worry and warn about when prostitution is criminalized. Mitchell picked up sex workers—either under the guise of being a client or of being a cop checking for outstanding warrants—and then used his position as a police officer to terrorize them.

In July 2017, Mitchell picked up a sex worker and “told the victim he was a police officer and acted as if he were doing a check for any outstanding warrants on the victim,” per a December 7 press release the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. “Mitchell used this ruse to handcuff the victim to the doorknob of his vehicle. He drove the victim to a nearby parking lot with multiple dumpsters and forcible [sic] held and detained the victim against her will before dropping her off at her boyfriend’s residence.”

Later that year, Mitchell picked up another sex worker and “began discussing the victim’s rates for sexual activity before announcing that he was an officer with the vice unit and said she was going to jail,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “Mitchell kidnapped the victim and drove her to Lindbergh Park, holding her against her will.”

The prosecutors’ latest statement doesn’t elaborate on what happened during these abductions. (It’s likely that as part of Mitchell’s plea deal, he only admitted to the kidnapping and not to sexual assault; because Mitchell’s plea is under seal, I’m unable to determine for sure). But the allegations against him in the government’s original and superseding indictments (and initial statements) went into more detail.

Mitchell was indicted on federal charges in 2019 and stood accused of forcing victims to engage in sex acts—including oral, vaginal, and anal sex—in order to get free. Additionally, Mitchell was charged with witness tampering, lying to the FBI, and obstruction of justice.

On the last charge—which Mitchell pleaded guilty to—he was accused of having people “remov[e] and dispos[e] of potential evidence from” a rental apartment of his and of having them clean out the property “with bleach and other chemicals.”

Mitchell initially pleaded not guilty and, after several continuances, a trial was set to start in January 2024. But earlier this month, Mitchell changed his plea from not guilty on all counts to guilty on three of the eight federal counts against him.

Earlier this year, a jury acquitted Mitchell on state charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. But the federal case and Mitchell’s plea in it adds some damning context to these state charges.

In August 2018, Mitchell fatally shot 23-year-old Donna Castleberry while she was trapped in his car. Mitchell claimed that the shooting was in self-defense.

Castleberry was reportedly working as a sex worker when Mitchell—in plain clothes—picked her up in an unmarked police car and drove her to a location where her side of the car was up against a brick wall, blocking her way out. Mitchell told her he was a cop  and this was a prostitution sting, according to Mitchell’s testimony, but he was unable to show Castleberry his police badge and she began yelling for help and asking passersby to call 911 before trying to flee. Eventually, she slashed Mitchell’s hand with a pocket knife and he fired six rounds at her, with three of them hitting her.

Mitchell was charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. A jury in the first trial, in 2022, couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. The case went to trial again this year and, in April, a jury returned a not-guilty verdict, apparently believing Mitchell’s story that he shot Castleberry in self-defense.

Mitchell’s version of the story seems somewhat suspect, even without knowing any of the other allegations against him. Why didn’t he just leave the car? She was the one trapped, not him. Why—as the prosecution pointed out at trial—did a forensic examination show Mitchell had his “hand over (the driver’s seat) … getting closer to Donna” as he shot, and that he waited more than 45 seconds after she cut him to fire? And even if utilizing his gun seemed necessary, how could firing six times be the most reasonable and restrained response?

But the fact that Mitchell is accused of trapping other women and demanding sex from them, and copped guilty to at least the first part, casts even more doubt on his story about Castleberry. Did he try to sexually assault or extort sex acts from her in the car that day? Was she crying for help because she didn’t believe he was a real cop—or because he was abusing his position as a cop? Did he shoot her because he felt his life was threatened—or because she threatened to reveal what he was really up to? We’ll likely never know.

Maybe the jury in the murder case got it right. Or maybe justice for Donna Castleberry will never come.

Regardless, Mitchell has been exposed as a predator and will face at least some—if perhaps way too little—repercussions for that.

By admin