Sunday, September 10, 2000


Killed in the line of duty

        In 154 years of preserving peace, Cincinnati cops have been beaten to death, thrown from a street car, fatally stabbed, killed in riots and murdered while protecting a murderer from a lynch mob.

        In 1850, City Watchman Peter Davison was stabbed to death by a medical student.

        Patrolman Frank Seip died in 1887 after being bitten by a diseased prisoner.

        Patrolman Louis Klusman was killed by a runaway horse on Christmas Day, 1896.

        Patrolman Armstrong Chumbley was shot down in a police station by a former police chief in 1906.

        In 1930, Patrolman Sargent M. Willie died in an explosion while raiding a still.

        In the Great Flood of 1937, Patrolman Harry Ward rowed a boat for 12 hours in the rain, then collapsed and died of a heart attack.

        Patrolman Carl Hille was checking a gas leak in 1942 when an explosion hurtled his body onto the roof of Saint Xavier Church on Fifth Street. The Elder High School baseball field where he pitched is named after him.

        All these short stories of bizarre tragedies and long-forgotten brutality are from Cincinnati Police records. They are populated by thieves, wife-beaters, bank robbers, drug addicts and the merely demented, like the policeman's wife who shot her husband as he slept, because she was feared he would be killed on duty.

        The characters have Dick Tracy names: “The Duke of Shantytown,” “The West End Gang,” “Hi-Ball Meg,” “Red Holt.”

        Some cops were killed by their own guns, some died because they had inferior equipment, many were hopelessly outnumbered but walked into the valley of the shadow of death to do their job.

        What they all have in common is that they are not like the rest of us. They are men who one day decided that they would risk their lives for the lives of others. Each chose to be the one who would stand up and say “Stop!” when everyone else was voiceless.

        Over and over, the cop-killers were set free by juries, released early from prison or never found at all.

        That, too, is noted bitterly in the police records. Just six years ago, Ricardo Woods was paroled. He killed Patrolman David Cole in 1974 and was sentenced to death. Now he's a free man in California. His partner, Ronald Reaves, also sentenced to die, was nearly paroled in May.

        What this says to cops, I'm guessing, is that the rest of us don't take the murder of a police officer very seriously once the funeral is over. We used to give cop-killers colorful names. Now we call them “parolees.”

        It makes me wonder why anyone would take the job. But even the sons and daughters of murdered officers put on the uniform, strap on a gun and pin on a badge that entitles them to long hours, low pay, sore feet, a chance to get killed any minute and all the insults they can swallow from guys in suits and moms in a hurry.

        No story is sadder than what happened to Officer Kevin Crayon: As he was dragged to death by a car, he shot and killed the driver, 12-year-old Courtney Mathis.

        When the news first hit the streets, you could almost see Cincinnati caught in mid-air, jumping to conclusions: blame the cop, blame the boy, blame his parents, blame whites, blame blacks.

        But then both families shamed us with their God-given grace of forgiveness.

        At the visitation in Forest Park, the wives of policemen handed out blue ribbons to hundreds of cops who drove hundreds of miles — and a few civilians who managed to drive across town.

        I could tell by the women's eyes that they know the sad stories of cops who died in the line of duty and left behind children and families and broken hearts that stretch from here to 1846.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

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