Mom of Cincinnati police recruit who remains hospitalized wants to know what happened

Cincinnati police recruit John Brown
Cincinnati police recruit John Brown

A mother wants answers after her son suffered a medical emergency during a Jan. 19 training exercise at Cincinnati's police academy.

No one from the city has answered Paula Marshall Brown's questions about what exactly happened before police recruit John Brown II, 36, was rushed to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, she said. He's still in the hospital and unable to tell her what happened himself, she said.

"All I know is my son is in grave condition," Paula Brown said. "We are accepting prayers from anyone and everybody for his complete recovery."

John Brown, who began training and education at the police academy July 25 in the 111th recruit class and is supposed to graduate Feb. 4, is unconscious and unable to breathe on his own, his mom said.

Cincinnati police recruit John Brown, right,
Cincinnati police recruit John Brown, right,

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said the 36-year-old recruit suffered a medical emergency during a training exercise meant to simulate struggles with suspects.

It was training similar to what officials call "red suiting" or "red man training" because the officer doing the training traditionally dons a protective red suit.

Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils, who represents most of Cincinnati's police force, but not the recruits, described it as a "subject control exercise" in which the instructor plays the role of a person resisting arrest.

"Recruits wear protective headgear and padding, but it is strenuous, much like a high school wrestling match," Hils said.

Cincinnati police officials say the training has existed for years and is critical to properly training officers for what they will face in the field. There are few reported injuries from such training nationally, but a similar situation to what happened last week in Cincinnati happened in California last year.

A 39-year-old Santa Clara Sheriff's Office cadet died from heart failure following this type of training, according to San Jose Inside. The news outlet reported that, in addition to injuries, poorly taught "red man" training can result in "extreme aggression or cowardice."

"The only thing I know he was having a training exercise and then there was a medical emergency," said Paula Brown, the Cincinnati recruit's mother. "That is all I know. He was a Marine. He was in good health."

She said she called the academy and left a message asking for the name of the training officer, the name of the witnesses, the names of other recruits present at the time and the name of the fire paramedic who responded.

"I have not received a call back or any information from the academy," she said.

John Brown
John Brown

The Enquirer has made public records requests seeking that same information. The Enquirer made a request Tuesday morning to speak with leadership at the academy. At the time of publication, academy leadership did not comment on the specific actions or the duration of the training in question. A video of the training exercise exists and a city spokeswoman said it would be released Wednesday.

Chief Isaac said John Brown was doing the same training all the recruits – including Isaac's own daughter, who is a police officer – have gone through.

It's unclear exactly what the training entails. More details are also expected to be released Wednesday.

'This training is not new'

Isaac explained the training exercise involved members of the department's special weapons and tactics team, who are "our most active, our most physically fit."

"This training is not new," he said. "This is something that every recruit in our department has gone through for the past decade or more. It is an intense training. This is preparing officers to be able to survive physical encounters on the street."

The Enquirer asked if the training involved multiple officers engaging with one recruit one after the other in a prolonged training exercise. To that, Isaac said, "Now I know that there's been some rumors that this involved hazing. It is absolutely ridiculous. That is not true.

"It's a multiple scenario where they wrestle," Isaac said. "Yeah, you may wrestle multiple people. A police officer may encounter physical encounters with multiple people while he's out in the field. So certainly not something that is unusual."

Maria Haberfeld is a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and studies how officers are trained to use force.

She said self-defense training is important for officers, but the execution of that training, down to the small details, must be examined carefully. She said safety equipment and the proficiency of the instructor both play key roles in the outcome.

"Subjecting the officer to actual threats, actual physical stress, during the training is something that should be minimized," Haberfeld said.

Haberfeld said that one of the issues with this type of training is that a police department will never be able to subject a trainee to the same level of threats they can encounter on the street because you can injure or kill them. That means it can be futile to even try to get close to that level of violence, she explained.

"You're not going to shoot a trainee to make them understand what kind of danger can come from a firearm," she said. "You can train officers with the use of simulations, but not necessarily actual physical attacks on the trainee."

Colerain Township Police Chief Mark Denney said all of the department's hires, even if they have prior experience, go through "red man" training when they join his force.

He said it is his understanding that all cadets who go through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and receive their certificate undergo similar training. Officials at OPOTA could not be reached for comment at the time of this report.

Denney said the training teaches them to use their baton, how to continue giving clear directions to a suspect and how the officer can protect themselves. He also said it teaches them to keep working after they have been hit.

"Very few of them have been in a fight with anyone. Back when I came up, we fought in school. Now, they don't let them get the point of fight," Denney said. "They come here and the first time they are going to get punched will be in the street. We worry about that."

He said the officers need to know they can fight through an attack, and he wants that first simulated attack to happen in a safe environment.

"It may sound a little barbaric, but that's the reality of the world they work in," Denney said.

Denney said his officers go up against a single attacker who is wearing the "red man" suit. The trainee is armed with a baton. The confrontation is limited to one minute and 30 seconds.

Officials are investigating Brown's situation

In Cincinnati, officials said they are looking into what happened. Chief Isaac said his department is doing an employee injury investigation and he asked the criminal investigations section of his department to do interviews with everyone who was involved.

"We certainly want to ensure that everything went according to the training plan and the training structure, that there was no misconduct or we wanted to ascertain what exactly happened," Isaac said. "Did he sustain an injury? ... Did he fall? We are fact-gathering."

No officers have been placed on leave during the investigation.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Investigation open after Cincinnati police recruit injured while training