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Accused police vice officer pleads not guilty in court

March 21, 2019
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Defense attorney Mark Collins, right, discusses his decision to delay arguments that his client, accused former Columbus vice officer Andrew Mitchell, should be released on bond pending trial, in company with defense attorney Kaitlyn Stephens, on Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. Collins said he wants to see the full evidence against Mitchell before asking that he be released. Mitchell pleaded not guilty Thursday to forcing women to have sex with him under threat of an arrest, and other charges. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A former vice officer traded sex for rent with multiple down-and-out female tenants of his rental properties, the government alleged as it argued for keeping the officer in jail pending a trial on several federal charges .

Ex-officer Andrew Mitchell is at risk for fleeing and poses a danger to the community, with many of his victims saying they are terrified of him, federal prosecutors argued in a Wednesday court filing.

Mitchell, 55, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of forcing two women to have sex with him under threat of an arrest, witness tampering and lying to federal agents when he said he’d never had sex with prostitutes.

He retired March 13 “not in good standing,” according to police records.

Mitchell is being held without bond. His attorney, Mark Collins, planned to argue in person Thursday for Mitchell to be released. But he decided to put off those arguments until he obtained all the evidence in the case against his client.

Prosecutors say the fears expressed by Mitchell’s alleged victims are real.

“Multiple victims, when asked if they had reported these incidents, consistently responded that they could not ‘report it to the police because it was the police,’” Jessica Kim, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in the court filing.

“The defendant further instilled these fears by telling them ‘even if you reported me, no one will believe you because you are just a prostitute,’” she said.

In the same filing, Kim said investigators have identified multiple women described as “vulnerable members of our community,” among them prostitutes and drug addicts, “who were tenants of the defendant’s rental properties and traded sex for free or reduced rent from him.”

Collins disputed these arguments, noting that Mitchell has not been charged with such allegations and was allowed to remain with the police department for months after an investigation was launched. Mitchell also stayed put between his March 7 indictment and March 11 arrest, Collins said.

“We certainly hope that the Government would have gotten this dangerous monster off the streets of Columbus before he had the potential to terrorize citizens of Columbus for the entire weekend,” Collins quipped in a Monday filing arguing in favor of his release.

In addition, Mitchell has no criminal record, is a lifelong central Ohio resident and is adopting a 3 ½-year old child with his wife, all arguments against him being a danger or a flight risk, Collins said.

An investigation continues into Mitchell’s involvement in the death of a woman last August. Police say Mitchell shot and killed 23-year-old Donna Castleberry as she sat in his unmarked car during an investigation into prostitution. Relatives of Castleberry said she struggled with drug addiction and was likely working as a prostitute.

Mitchell will testify about that case before a grand jury April 4, Collins said, where he’s expected to explain why it was a proper use of force. Castleberry stabbed Mitchell before she was shot, according to police.

Castleberry’s sister said Thursday that Mitchell should remain behind bars.

“He’s been charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice,” said Bobbi McCalla. “I’m afraid that if he’s allowed to be out amongst the general public, he might continue to those things.”