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Family Of Slain Harrison Township Man Accuses Sheriff Of Smearing His Name

From left to right, Bishop Richard Cox with SCLC, Attorney Michael Wright, and Patricia Martin, Dontae Martin's mother
Lewis Wallace
From left to right, Bishop Richard Cox with SCLC, Attorney Michael Wright, and Patricia Martin, Dontae Martin's mother

The family of a black man shot and killed by Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies last week is accusing the sheriff’s office of smearing his name, and calling for a thorough investigation.

The facts people agree on: last week two white deputies responded to a 911 call about a single-car crash in Harrison Township. At the end of it, 34-year-old Dontae Martin was dead.

What happened in between those events are harder to hash out. The deputies say Martin pointed a pistol at them, and they shot him several times after he refused to put it down. Several witnesses told the Montgomery County sheriff they heard the deputies telling him to put the gun down. An attorney for Martin's family says nobody has attested to seeing the gun. 

At a press conference in downtown Dayton Wednesday, Martin’s fiancé, Dominique Vinzant, said he just wasn’t the type.

“He cared not just about his family, he cared about the community. He wasn’t a selfish person,” she said.

Martin leaves behind six children, and both his parents were at the press conference.

The family's attorney, Michael Wright, who also represents the family of John Crawford III, questioned why there was no dash-cam video of the incident, which took place in the early morning on July 23.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer says because the officers were responding to a car crash, they weren’t required to put on lights and sirens, which would have activated the recording. He says police were just doing their jobs.

“We didn’t call that meeting,” Plummer said in an interview Tuesday. “We were there to help an individual who crashed his car. He chose to illegally carry a gun and point it at the officers.”

Plummer has called Martin a “convicted felon”—but in fact, his one felony drug charge was dismissed when he agreed to treatment in Montgomery County court. A records search turns up many misdemeanors, mostly traffic violations, and one misdemeanor assault conviction. Attorney Wright accused the sheriff of painting a bad picture of Dontae, but the sheriff declined to respond to the statements made at the press conference.

“He was not that type of person,” said Patricia Martin, Dontae Martin’s mother. “I just want to clear my son’s name.”

The two deputies, Gus Teague and Josh Haas, are on paid leave while the sheriff’s office conducts an investigation. Plummer defended his deputies’ actions.

“No deputy wakes up, no police officer wakes up in the morning hoping to take a life,” he said.

Meanwhile, activists have begun to respond to the incident.

Bishop Richard Cox with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was at the press conference.

“They painted a bad picture of Dontae,” said Cox. “We’re upset about it, and we also plan to do active protesting until we can find justice for him.”

It will be several weeks before a coroner’s report is released with more details on Martin’s death. A criminal investigation and an internal investigation into the shooting will both be handled internally by the Montgomery County Sheriff.

Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.