“Do not put your hands on me! Help! Please help me! Help me, please!”
The final moments of Donna Dalton Castleberry’s life were captured on an audio recording on train Columbus police vice officer Andrew Mitchell’s cellphone on Aug. 23, 2018.
On Tuesday, the recording was played for a Franklin County Common Pleas Court jury in the trial of 58-year-old Mitchell on one count of murder and voluntary manslaughter in connection with Castleberry’s shooting death. He is the first Columbus police officer to be charged in an on-duty shooting.
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Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Sheryl Prichard said in a brief opening statement Tuesday that Castleberry had turned to prostitution while battling a drug addiction. She was working on the Hilltop when she encountered Mitchell. The two settled on a price of $25 for a sex act, according to the audio recording.
“She was polite and cooperative,” Prichard said.
Mitchell partially pulled behind an apartment building on the 300 block of South Yale Avenue, with the passenger side of his unmarked sedan close to the building so the doors could not be opened. Mitchell told Castleberry she was under arrest. Castleberry asked to see his badge.
Mitchell didn’t have it.
Castleberry asked to see Mitchell’s walkie-talkie. He didn’t have it either.
“You’re not the police,” Castleberry said on the audio recording.
Castleberry told a person walking to a dumpster in the parking lot to call the police because Mitchell had a “fake-ass badge” and was trying to kidnap her.
Mitchell is then heard using an expletive toward Castleberry and a scuffle is heard.
“Do not put your hands on me!” Castleberry yelled multiple times.
Castleberry had scrambled into the back seat of the four-door, unmarked police car in an attempt to get out of the vehicle, but was unable to open the driver’s-side rear door because child safety locks were engaged.
“She cut me,” Mitchell said after Castleberry produced a knife and stabbed the man she apparently thought was trying to rape her.
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Mitchell fired six shots within a 12-second period, striking Castleberry three times.
Castleberry’s family members and friends, some of whom were turned away Tuesday because there was not enough room in the courtroom for all the spectators, cried as they heard the gunshots on the recording and Castleberry’s final words.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” she said.
Mitchell then is heard calling the situation a “f–ing nightmare,” before the audio ends.
“This was not a split-second decision. This was not an officer shooting for his life,” Prichard said. Some of the shots, the prosecution contends, were fired by Mitchell as he was partially outside of the car.
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Kaitlyn Stephens, one of Mitchell’s attorneys, said what the audio didn’t show is the nature of the “life-and-death struggle” that was going on inside the car.
“You cannot look in hindsight,” Stephens said. “You must stand in Andy Mitchell’s shoes as he was experiencing these things.”
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Stephens said Mitchell was “slashed” on the right hand, requiring 34 stitches during emergency surgery and a blood transfusion. She said Castleberry also attempted to choke Mitchell, causing him to begin to lose consciousness.
Stephens said Castleberry had cocaine and fentanyl in her system, as well as an active warrant out for her arrest.
“She did not want to go to jail,” Stephens said, arguing that Castleberry escalated the situation with Mitchell when she realized he was going to check to see if she had any warrants, going “from non-compliant to violent in seconds.”
“The confrontation didn’t stop until Andrew Mitchell shot to stop the threat,” Stephens said.
She said Mitchell, who was a member of Columbus Police’s vice unit at the time of the shooting and was working undercover, in plain clothes, had gone through training at the division’s shooting range on when to use deadly force. The training was hours before Castleberry was shot.
“They are trained to shoot until the threat is over,” Stephens said.
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Jury taken to see Mitchell’s unmarked car, scene of shooting
On Tuesday afternoon, the jury was taken to the Columbus police impound lot to see the Mitsubishi sedan Mitchell had used as an unmarked car. The jury was also taken to the parking lot on South Yale Avenue where the shooting occurred.
Testimony is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The prosecution plans to call at least eight witnesses, including an expert on police use of force. The defense will call several witnesses of their own. It is not known if Mitchell will testify.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Audio of final moments of Donna Castleberry’s life played for jury