Sunday, August 31, 1997

The Cincinnati Enquirer

What happened to Lorenzo Collins last February was a tragedy. What happened to the Cincinnati Police officer who shot him would be a Keystone Kops comedy if it were not so depressing.

Douglas DePodesta was among 15 officers who surrounded the escaped mental patient. When Mr. Collins refused to drop a brick, Officer DePodesta and a University of Cincinnati cop opened fire.

No matter what you think of the shooting - I still think it was wrong - no cop deserves to be treated the way Cincinnati treated Officer DePodesta.

On Thursday he won a temporary restraining order against the city, to restore his badge until a second hearing on Sept. 8. Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel intervened ''with great reluctance,'' but found ''there is no reasonable basis'' for the city to suspend Officer DePodesta. (STORY)

Morally, the city had good reasons to take away his police powers during four investigations. But testimony showed that city and police officials made such a mess of the case, they don't have a legal leg to stand on:

You'd think a cop who shoots someone would be interviewed immediately. Officer DePodesta waited nearly 10 hours. He was finally asked about the 3:50 p.m. shooting at 1:30 a.m.

iIn such an explosive case, you'd think the officer would lose his gun and badge immediately if there were any concerns about his fitness. Police Chief Michael Snowden and Safety Director Kent Ryan both testified that they were very concerned about Officer Depodesta.

''It's hard to put a finger on it,'' the chief testified. ''I am just using my gut feeling, that I have seen a lot of police officers involved in a lot of critical situations and in particular shootings, and I have never had one react in a manner that he did. He was extremely calm and collected and not calm to the point of being out of control, but just being unconcerned, and again, it's just a gut feeling. I can't put my finger on it and I'm not a medical professional. It was not a normal reaction to a police officer in that situation.''

Mr. Ryan had the same opinion. He was ''very concerned'' that Officer DePodesta was carrying in his hat a report that exonerated him in the death of a previous suspect, Darryll C. Price, who died in custody a year earlier after being handcuffed by Office DePodesta. But Mr. Ryan was not concerned enough to read the report Officer DePodesta gave him.

Just 10 days after the shooting, Officer DePodesta sought medical care for a sudden facial paralysis called Ramsey Hunt Syndrome. His lawyer said it may be related to chicken pox. Chief Snowden and others thought it was stress related.

But despite all their worries, they did not take away his badge and gun until July 1, 17 weeks after the shooting.

You'd think Officer DePodesta would have been given an immediate psychiatric exam. But Safety Director Kent Ryan said he never asked for an exam or results of one. Chief Snowden said he had no idea who would examine the cop.

Shock waves from the shooting of a black mental patient have torn Cincinnati apart along racial lines for seven months - while the order to evaluate Officer DePodesta got lost somewhere on its way to City Manager John Shirey. Asked on Tuesday when it would be done, Mr. Ryan replied that ''there is a process being developed'' to examine Officer DePodesta - maybe by October.

You'd think Officer DePodesta's supervisors would keep track of him, send him on leave or give him a quiet desk job during angry protests and investigations. Nope. They lost track of him and he wound up working at a shooting range, surrounded by weapons and ammunition.

Officer DePodesta received death threats, but he was disarmed - after he was exonerated by four separate investigations. When he needed counseling and psychiatric help, he was shuffled to menial jobs and told he might be fired. When Chief Snowden was asked why it took so long to take his gun, he said, ''Our policy has always been not to . . . make the officer appear guilty or tell the media that we thought he was guilty.''

Chief Snowden and Mr. Ryan are good guys who made some bad mistakes. No wonder police morale is rock bottom.

Cops put their lives on the line for the rest of us every day. When they shoot someone - right or wrong - some cry, some threaten to commit suicide, some remain calm and just get sick inside.

The way Douglas DePodesta was treated should make us all sick inside.


Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. Call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.