Henry Green and the slow, fitful march toward healing
In the years since Green's death, his mother, Adrienne Hood, has joined with friends and family to try and bring more accountability to policing while also working to mend the community and themselves
The first thing Adrienne Hood noticed following the birth of her son, Henry Green, were his puffy cheeks, a feature so prominent that it led Hood’s mother to dub the youngster Bubblicious, later shortened to Bub, which remained Green’s nickname up until the day he was shot and killed by Columbus police officers Zachary Rosen and Jason Bare on June 6, 2016, at the age of 23.
In the years since Green’s death, Hood has worked to undo a police narrative that she said has given the public a false impression of her son’s character, while simultaneously taking on a larger role in an ongoing social justice movement that has progressed slowly but steadily in the nearly six years since Green’s shooting, its victories evident in everything from the operational review of the Columbus Division of Police completed by Matrix Consulting in 2019 to the 2021 establishment of a civilian police review board, long a priority for some local activists.
Throughout, Hood has continued to pursue legal resolution in the death of her son, whose killing brought new attention to the issue of police violence against the Black community in Columbus, preceding the similarly high-profile law enforcement shootings of Ty’re King, Casey Goodson, Julius Tate, Jr. and Andre Hill, among others. These killings have brought national attention to the city and its police force, increasing calls for transparency and accountability and helping to fuel the resurgent Black lives matter protests that spread from the East Side to the outer suburbs and deep into rural Ohio following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
“I had cases that I investigated prior [to Henry Green], but none that rose to the level of community awareness that this one did,” said Green family attorney Sean Walton, who also represents the families of Ty’re King and Casey Goodson. “Folks had been rallying around Tamir Rice (killed by Cleveland police in 2014) and John Crawford (killed by police in Beaver Creek, Ohio, in 2014), so when it happened in Columbus, I think a lot of folks were ready to tell their truth in a way that it hadn’t been told before. When you look back in history, Henry was a flashpoint, and I think since then it has kind of become that landmark case in Columbus, where things finally started to change.”
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In June 2017, Hood led the family in filing a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city and CPD officers Rosen and Bare, whose use of deadly force was deemed reasonable by a March 2017 grand jury, which declined to indict the officers. (The two were also cleared by an internal Columbus Police investigation.) The still-active case reached its latest apex in November, when a federal judge declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked, unable to reach a verdict. A new trial is now scheduled to take place in April.
“The first couple days [after the mistrial] were really devastating as it started to sink in and I started to process … how close we were,” Hood said from the living room of her Forest Park East home on the North Side in December, seated across from her daughter, Skylah Green. “It was like, ‘This really could have been over with right now.’ … This year, I’ve cried as much as I did in the beginning. There was almost this freeze [the last five years] because there was so much fighting to do: fighting his case, fighting for people to see him as a human being. Everything about it has been a fight on some scale.”
Now, with some form of resolution hopefully beginning to come into focus, Hood has started to confront a grief that has long been secondary to fighting for her son's memory, and which reverberates throughout the small circle of friends and family that surrounded Green in life, from his parents and siblings to childhood friend Christian Rutledge, who was walking alongside Green when Rosen and Bare emerged from a white SUV, dressed in casual clothes and with guns at the ready.
“I’m still not all the way together. I still have to take mental health classes and things like that,” Rutledge said in an early January phone call. “It’s a thing we call ‘triggers,’ and when people randomly ask me about it, I need to be like, ‘You’re triggering me right now. You’re making my depression kick in, my PTSD.’ … People don’t go through that every day. People don’t lose they best friend, especially to the police. People may hear what I’m saying, but they don’t understand what I’m going through on an everyday basis. At night, I barely get sleep. I’m already an overthinker, so I’m up.”
Born Henry Green V on March 20, 1993, at Grant Medical Center, the same place he would later be pronounced dead at age 23, the youngster emerged at a whopping 8 pounds, 14 ounces, the whites of his eyes blood red, Hood said, from “me pushing so hard to get him out.” When Hood brought Green home from the hospital, she introduced him to her oldest daughter, Skylah, by saying, “This is your new baby brother,” to which Skylah replied, “My baby bubby,” introducing the nickname later solidified by Hood’s mother.
The middle child of three, Green served as Hood’s “knee baby.” “You’ve got one in your arms and the toddler that’s walking,” she explained from her front porch on a mild day in September as she gently patted her knee, which bounced and rocked as if she were balancing an imaginary child. “And then here you have your knee baby.”
From a young age, Green revealed himself as an entertainer, cracking jokes, creating skits and doing impressions, which he and his sister occasionally filmed with the family’s camcorder. Hood, a U.S. Army veteran and twice-divorced grandmother of four, recalled one time when Green broke into a pitch-perfect impression of Stymie, from the 1994 film “Little Rascals,” recreating a scene in which the character reads a letter from Alfalfa to Darla.
“One of my best friends when I was on active duty, her name was Darla, and so she came over one day, and out of nowhere he started doing the scene: ‘Dear Darla, I hate your stinkin’ guts,’” Hood recited, and laughed. “And she was listening to the words and turning cherry red, and then he pushed his glasses up and was like, ‘Love, Bubby.’ And she was really starting to get teary eyed to where I had to be like, ‘It’s a scene from the movie!’ … And then she started laughing and gave him the biggest hug and was like, ‘Oh, my God!’”
Skylah Green said her brother’s sense of humor could disarm, making it impossible for anyone to stay mad at him. “He was a goofball," she said.
In interviews, friends and relatives consistently described Green as family oriented, unassuming and affable. Jamar Jordan, a neighbor and friend who was also a witness to Green’s death, said it was rare to see the young man absent a smile, which Jordan said Green must have inherited from his father, because “when his dad smiled at me coming into the trial, it was like a smile from within Henry.”
Christian Rutledge first met Green when he was 12 years old, recalling how the two would fill their days riding bikes and playing basketball, a sport in which Green, a born righty who utilized his left hand on the court, displayed crafty handles and a reliable if unconventional jump shot. As the two moved into their teenage years, they’d spend more time cruising in Green’s orange Mitsubishi Eclipse, Rutledge said, either attempting to talk to girls or filling the hours with conversation. “And when we talked, we’d talk about things we want to do,” Rutledge said. “We were open-minded to anything, like, ‘We can do this, and it could open this door for this person.’ He was always thinking about the next person. … He cared a lot about the people he loved, and who he considered his family.”
In the time prior to his death, Green was in the process of trying to establish the person he would be, Hood said. Never fond of academics — Hood described him as the type who could get the correct answer but loathed the process of showing his work — Green held down warehouse jobs and expressed an interest in cooking, weighing enrollment in the culinary arts program at Bradford School or at Columbus State Community College.
“He had just turned 23 and he was in that space of figuring out what it was that he was going to be doing,” Hood said. “He definitely wanted to work for himself. He was like, ‘I’m not going to be one of them who works 20-some years for somebody else.’ … He wanted to define life on his own terms. Whatever it ended up being, it was going to be because he charted it.”
Green never had a chance to settle on a course. On June 6, 2016, Green and Rutledge were walking to the Linden home of Green’s aunt when a white SUV with darkened windows unexpectedly swerved in the pair's direction. From the car, two white men emerged, one dressed in camouflage shorts and the other in all black. Both had guns drawn. Before Rutledge could identify Bare and Rosen as police, the gunfire started, with Rutledge later telling the Dispatch that the officers “hopped out so fast I thought they shot through the window.”
In the CPD telling, Bare and Rosen said they initiated contact with Green after they spotted him “brandishing” a gun, and that Green shot first, leading them to return fire. In the altercation, Rosen fired 15 shots and Bare another seven, the pair striking Green seven times, killing him. At the time of the shooting, Rosen and Bare were on-duty as part of the city’s controversial Community Safety Initiative, a program that targeted high-crime areas with increased patrols and plain-clothes officers, sometimes referred to as “jump-out boys” by residents of the impacted neighborhoods, owing to the aggressive, unexpected nature of the stops performed by police.
Neighbor Jamar Jordan, who witnessed the shooting, painted a contrasting picture of events from police. “There’s nothing that’s ever going to change about what I saw: The cops shot him first,” Jordan said. “They didn’t say not one word, kicked that door open, shot him, and continued to fire, fire, fire. Henry came out his shoe, dropped his gun, and they’re still firing, still firing. I’m screaming at the top of my lungs now: ‘He’s down! He’s done! What are you still shooting for?!’”
According to attorney Sean Walton, the wrongful death suit brought against Rosen and Bare now hinges entirely on those few seconds when Jordan said the officers continued to shoot after Green could no longer be considered a threat, nearly five years of legal maneuvering coming down to how a jury will interpret actions taken in a span of seconds.
“I believe there are 10 witnesses, where once the shooting started, they turned around or had some vantage point where they saw officers Bare and Rosen continue to shoot Henry when he was on the ground, no gun in his hand,” Walton said. “They fired 22 times that day, and had they stopped firing Henry would still be here.”
Jordan watched Henry Green die on June 6, 2016, and then again on June 7, and again on every subsequent day since. Even now, Jordan said he is unable to shake the images of extreme violence he witnessed, which come to him daily and have forever tainted his memories of Green.
“He was on the ground, looking around outside like he was in a room, and when he finally locked eyes on me, I’m telling him, ‘Just breathe, man. Just breathe.’ I saw him clench up, even in cuffs, and then he was out,” Jordan said. “It’s hard to remember somebody when you see how they was done. … I see that smile [in my memory] but there’s blood behind the teeth. It’s crazy, man. I see his mouth full of blood, his shoulder shot open. … It’s hard to remember the good things with the way I’ve seen him. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, because I’d have better memories.”
Grief can take many forms, which is certainly true of those around Green, with friends and family members all processing his death in different, deeply personal ways. His mom, for one, leaned more heavily into her activist work early on, pushing for greater police accountability while simultaneously serving as an emotional anchor for other mothers who have since lost children to police violence, a group she has dubbed the “involuntary club,” in that no one wants to be a member.
“She’s the only one I talk to,” said Tamala Payne, the mother of Casey Goodson, who was shot and killed by Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade in December 2020.
“There have been times I’ve had to pull back, where I’ve been overwhelmed, and she just keeps going,” Walton said of Hood. “She travels the state, travels the country, and advocates not just for Henry, but for all families. … She has been a consistent force.”
While the work felt natural, and needed, it never allowed Hood the time she needed to grieve, a process she said finally started this year after accepting that there were certain burdens she no longer felt duty-bound to carry.
“I finally just came to this place where I was like, ‘It’s not my job to convince anybody of my son’s humanity,’” Hood said. “I share his story, and I’ll continue to share his story, but what I won’t do is feel like I’m obligated or expected to make someone feel. Letting go of that, having that release, it frees me up to where I feel like I’m really starting to grieve my son.”
Rutledge, in contrast, responded to Green’s death by retreating inward, holing up alone in his house for long stretches. Jordan said that when he ran into Rutledge a year after the shooting, he appeared to be so fully in the throes of grief that “he looked like a shell of himself.” “It was like, ‘This is not you,’” Jordan said. “He was so far gone from his own body.”
Even now, Rutledge continues to struggle mentally, having been diagnosed with anxiety, PTSD and depression in the aftermath of the shooting. “Closure isn’t something that comes quickly at all,” he said. “I haven’t come to terms with it yet. … Every day I think about it.”
Walton, likewise, has been diagnosed with a form of PTSD attributable to his legal work on police shooting cases, though he has carried on because he views his job as part of a larger mission. “I see it as a calling, where I need to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,” he said. “And I think through constantly telling their stories, through telling their truths, we have made progress.”
In terms of this bigger picture, Hood acknowledged progress has been made on police accountability, though she said it can be a struggle to pick out those silver linings while carrying the knowledge that Bare and Rosen continue as active-duty CPD officers in good standing. This despite the fact that Rosen was fired from CPD for “unreasonable” use of force months after footage surfaced of Rosen stomping on the head of a handcuffed suspect in April 2017. Rosen was eventually reinstated in March 2018, and in his most recent performance evaluation, obtained through a public record request and dated Jan. 1, 2021, the officer received the highest possible marks across the board. In one comment, Rosen’s supervisor cited “the multitude of great career advancement opportunities” available to the officer, highlighting his “leadership potential.”
“We continue to lose people [to police violence], and the bodies continue to stack up, and it’s unacceptable,” Hood said. “For me this is all business, and it’s also personal in the sense that every one of these people who is killed by the police, who is harmed when they have a police encounter, has a family that loves them. Regardless of what the public thinks of those individuals, they were still loved by somebody. And we will respect their humanity.”