Cincinnati police officer indicted for fatal shooting
CINCINNATI (AP) – A grand jury returned two misdemeanor charges Monday against a white police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black man touched off three nights of devastating riots.
As night fell, a thunderstorm drenched the city and streets were quiet. Outside police headquarters, about 150 protesters marched peacefully as officers on horseback and others in riot gear watched nearby.
Earlier, downtown businesses boarded up windows and the police went to 12-hour shifts in case there was new violence.
Officer Stephen Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstruction of official business exactly one month after 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was shot as he fled down an alley.
Roach, 27, has said he thought Thomas was reaching for a gun. If convicted of both charges, Roach would face no more than nine months in jail and could receive probation.
”I know that emotions are running high over the tragic death of Timothy Thomas, but the case against Officer Roach cannot be decided based on emotion,” prosecutor Michael Allen said.
Thomas, being sought for 14 outstanding warrants, was the fifth black man killed in confrontations with Cincinnati police since November.
The grand jury’s choice of misdemeanor charges drew immediate criticism from Thomas’ mother, Angela Leisure.
”I feel it was a slap on the wrist,” she said. ”I don’t feel like justice was served. I feel it was not severe enough for the severity of what he did. He took a life. Negligence – that doesn’t cut it for me.”
The shooting prompted the city’s worst racial violence since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn. Dozens were injured during last month’s unrest and more than 800 arrests were made before a citywide curfew helped restore order.
Prosecutors announced the grand jury’s decision after most downtown workers had gone home. The Cincinnati Reds, who play downtown in Cinergy Field, are out of town until Friday.
The Rev. Damon Lynch, one of the city’s most prominent black leaders, called for peace but criticized the grand jury’s decision.
”I was expecting exactly what we got – or less,” Lynch said.
Earlier Monday, the Justice Department said it has formally opened a civil rights investigation of the Cincinnati police department. An agency official speaking on condition of anonymity said authorities would look for patterns of illegal conduct, including the use of excessive force.
Fifteen blacks and no whites have died in confrontations with Cincinnati police since 1995, with authorities saying most pointed guns or shot at officers.
Two white officers are awaiting trial in one of the deaths. The coroner said Roger Owensby Jr., 29, suffocated during his Nov. 7 arrest.
Roach is accused of negligently causing Thomas’ death and with giving misleading statements to investigators. Allen refused to elaborate on how Roach was considered negligent.
Roach, a police officer since 1997, is on paid leave and has not commented publicly about the shooting. His attorney, Merlyn Shiverdecker, did not return telephone calls Monday.
The police union has said that Roach felt threatened by the suspect.
”A number of witnesses indicated that Mr. Thomas was wearing oversize pants, and that his hands were at his waist area holding his pants up as he ran,” Allen said. ”The only information known to officers pursuing Mr. Thomas was a physical description, that he was wanted on 14 arrest warrants and that he continued to avoid arrests during the pursuit.”
Kweisi Mfume, national president of the NAACP, talked to Thomas’ family by phone Monday.
”It’s a very tense situation in Cincinnati,” Mfume said from his office in Baltimore, Md. ”I have oftentimes described it as ground zero for race relations in our nation.”
Blacks have long complained they are harassed by Cincinnati police and their neighborhoods are neglected economically. The American Civil Liberties Union and black activists sued the city in March, accusing the police department of failing to end 30 years of police harassment of blacks, who make up 43 percent of the 331,000 residents.
In the past month, the City Council has agreed to federal court-supervised mediation to resolve the ACLU lawsuit and the city’s safety director and the city manager have resigned under criticism.
Mayor Charles Luken has also established a commission on race relations to explore problems that led to the rioting and what should be done to improve housing, employment and education for blacks who say they have been left out of Cincinnati’s economic growth.
On the Net:
City police: http://www.cincinnatipolice.org
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov
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