Sunday, February 06, 2000

'Why did police shoot my son?'

Mother still waits for answers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The case of Mary Whitfield's son will be reviewed
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mary Whitfield wants to know why a Cincinnati police officer shot her son. After four years, her son's case finally will be examined by the city agency required by law to investigate it.

        The Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) said Friday it will complete investigations of four police shooting cases highlighted in an Enquirer study of the Cincinnati Police Division's use of deadly force (Dec. 19 report).

        The Enquirer series reported in December that OMI failed to complete investigations for nine cases of police shooting at civilians since 1994. City law requires OMI to respond to the scene of such shootings and begin an immediate investigation. Lists of police shooting cases were sent to OMI. The agency found no records or reports for nine cases.

        “We'll take another look at them,” said Ernest McAdams, OMI's director since 1997. “They should have written these reports. And it's very difficult to try and go back and do them now, but we're going to try.”

        All but one of the cases happened before Mr. McAdams was appointed director.

        Mr. McAdams is expected to answer questions about the nine cases on Monday during City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee meeting.

        Ms. Whitfield, 48, of Westwood is hopeful that OMI will complete a thorough review in the case of her son, Kyron Thomas.

        Mr. Thomas and Vincent Barnes, a bystander wounded accidentally, were shot by Officer David Russell during a struggle on a dice game run. Police say the officer — who retired because of injuries from the incident — was defending his life after Mr. Thomas attacked him. Mr. Thomas, now 24, was convicted of felonious assault. He is serving seven to 25 years in the Dayton Correctional Institute.

        Ms. Whitfield has asked Mr. McAdams to review her son's 1995 case before. In March 1998, he sent her a letter telling her that “due to the passage of time” the agency could review only the police investigation.

        Mr. McAdams said since the Enquirer published its report, his staff has found records of notes and interviews for some of the cases. The agency is trying to reconstruct the records and will attempt to interview any witnesses it failed to question before.

        Other cases to be re-examined:

        • Ralph Schellhammer, 1996: A man threatening officers with a sword was shot. An OMI report to council in December said OMI responded and began an investigation but did not write a report or a summary of the case.

        • Anthony Jackson, 1994: An aggravated-burglary suspect was shot in the leg during a struggle with police. The December report says OMI responded to the scene and began an investigation but did not write a report or a summary.

        In July, Mr. McAdams told the Enquirer that he had no

        OMI records for this case.

        • Kathleen Jones, 1994: An officer fired at but missed Ms. Jones, a woman threatening the officer with a butcher knife. A city manager's report says OMI responded to the scene, began an investigation and wrote a summary.

        In July, Mr. McAdams told the Enquirer that he had no OMI records for this case. The agency will not re-examine the remaining five cases for which the Enquirer series found no completed OMI investigations, Mr. McAdams said.

        Mr. McAdams reviewed the agency's case backlog and wrote summaries of several cases in 1998.

        The summaries listed the cases as closed “due to the passage of time.” Other than the summaries, the Enquirer found no record of OMI investigation on these cases.

        Because of this finding, the fact that the summaries were written as many as four years after the incident and included no mention of an OMI investigator responding to the scene, the Enquirer counted the following four cases among the nine that had not been investigated:

        • Anthony Mays, 1996: The suicidal man was hit with shotgun pellets when police tried to shoot his tires to prevent escape. The December report said Mr. McAdams could not determine whether OMI had responded to the scene.

        • Thomas Adams, 1995: A car theft suspect, Mr. Adams was shot by an officer after he tried to drive away while another officer was trying to pull him from a stolen van, police said. The city's report Thursday said it could not determine whether OMI had responded to the scene.

        • Gregory Sears, 1995: A domestic violence suspect, he was shot when he threatened officers with a knife and a screwdriver. The city could not determine whether OMI responded.

        • Nicdarrylondo Crew, 1994: An armed robbery suspect, he was shot by an officer. The city manager's report says OMI responded to the scene.

        Mr. McAdams said the agency has completed its investigation into the ninth missing OMI case cited by the Enquirer:

        • Unknown home intruder suspect, 1998: Officer Robert “Blaine” Jorg said he fired at a man who had intruded into the officer's home. The suspect turned and raised his hand as if he were raising a gun before the officer fired. The suspect never was caught.

        The December report says OMI responded to the scene, but did not write a report.

        In July, Mr. McAdams told the Enquirer that his office had no record of this case because it had not been notified of the shots fired. Police communications said its records showed it had called an OMI investigator. This is the only one of the nine cases that happened after Mr. McAdams was named OMI director.

        The Enquirer's examination found that OMI — which is required to investigate each time an officer deliberately shoots at someone, hit or miss — failed to do so in nine of 32 police shooting cases from 1994 to 1999.

        During its investigation, the newspaper studied each Cincinnati police internal investigations file of shots fired. Several cases had OMI reports in the police files; many did not. To ascertain that OMI had investigated these cases, the Enquirer asked Mr. McAdams to search the agency's records. The Enquirer's conclusions were based on information provided by Mr. McAdams and OMI staff.


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