Sunday, May 21, 2000

Good cop, bad cop - or both?

He has shot two suspects and been reviewed more than a dozen times. He also has supervisors' praise and a string of commendations. Who is Officer Daniel Carder?

By Lucy May
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's the Daniel Carder that Timothy Blair remembers.

        The Cincinnati cop with the Clint Eastwood attitude. He shattered Mr. Blair's car window, squirted him with chemical spray and shot him, leaving him paralyzed. It started when Mr. Blair was accused of shoplifting.

        There's the Daniel Carder that Dennis Johnson remembers.

        The level-headed policeman who arrested two students for breaking into Purcell Marian High School when Mr. Johnson was principal there. He was “gentle” and “humane,” Mr. Johnson recalls. “He was just a good guy.”

        By all accounts, the 30-year-old Cincinnati policeman is a tough cop intent on fighting crime, sometimes with finesse, other times by force.

        He's also the only officer since at least 1994 to have fired at suspects twice.

  • Badge No.: P.O. 108
  • Age: 30
  • Height: 6'2”
  • Weight: 220 pounds
  • Education: Graduated in 1988 from Fairbanks Local High School in Milford Center, Ohio. Graduated in 1994 from The Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice.
  • Military service: U.S. Army National Guard, military police. In a 1992 job application, he listed himself as an active cadet/sergeant.
  • Employment history: Worked as a cashier at Meijer earning $5.55 an hour while attending college before becoming a Cincinnati police recruit. Assigned to the police academy June 7, 1992. Promoted to police officer and assigned to District 2 on Oct. 25, 1992. Also has worked in District 3 but has spent most of his career in District 4. Transferred to District 2 on March 26.
        Investigators will determine if he and two other officers were justified in shooting to death a man accused of a violent robbery in Avondale in March. A citizens review panel is holding hearings into whether Officer Carder had just cause to shoot Mr. Blair in November 1998.

        City records also show that since 1995, Officer Carder has been investigated nine times for allegedly using excessive force and four times for alleged discourteous treatment of people. He has received more complaints about excessive use of force in the past three years than any of the 24 officers currently working the overnight shift in District 4, where he's spent most of his career. He's been cleared of all but one complaint.

        In nearly eight years on the streets, he also has been lectured about trying to haul a suspect out of a car window and about using the butt of a loaded shotgun to strike a man. He's been reprimanded for dropping his personal gun in the middle of a street and for being at fault in four police car wrecks in eight months.

        Yet Officer Carder's personnel records also contain 15 commendations for exemplary service since 1993. He's been cited for catching armed robbers and leading his shift in arrests.

        Officials caution against drawing easy conclusions about the fitness of an officer who's spent most of his career working the overnight shift on some of the city's toughest streets.

        But questions about Officer Carder's conduct underscore fundamental issues that face Cincinnati police and other law agencies nationwide: While departments need officers who are willing to put themselves in the path of danger, it's important to ensure that those officers don't become dangerous themselves.

        “It's one of those balance issues,” says Lawrence Travis, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. "You want someone who is going to act when they see something, but (who will) do it in a thoughtful, cautious way and who will be able to leave themselves a way out.”

        Officer Carder declined to talk to the Enquirer for this article. His lawyer advised him against it because of ongoing investigations and potential lawsuits stemming from the Blair shooting.

        But in an interview last October, he described himself as “a nice person.”

        “I'm a nice person, usually, and I try to stay nice and calm,” he said then. “But sometimes I'm not dealing with the nicest people.”

Night shift excitement
        Those who have worked with Officer Carder say he's a good cop who works well on a busy beat in a high-crime area. Like many young, single officers, he likes the fast pace and excitement of working the overnight shift, says Keith Fangman, president of Cincinnati's Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents all the city's sworn officers except the chief.

        “Most of your criminal acts occur at night,” Mr. Fangman says.

        Since he was hired in June 1992, Officer Carder has spent most of his career working the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift in District 4. The bustling cluster of neighborhoods includes Avondale, Bond Hill and Walnut Hills. Hospitals and off-campus college housing, low-income apartments and high-end mansions, pony kegs and bars characterize the economically and racially diverse district.

        The area also has the most reported serious crimes of any of the city's five police districts. From 1990 to 1999, District 4 reported more serious crime — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft — than any other district, even though it's fourth smallest.

        Officer Carder seemed to thrive in that environment, according to personnel records obtained by the Enquirer.

        His last annual review, dated Dec. 31, 1999, recommended he study for promotion to specialist. “Dan is a leader on the relief (shift) and a pleasure to work with,” his supervisor, Sgt. Daniel Ogilvie, wrote.

        The year before, Sgt. Daniel M. Nickum wrote: “Officer Carder strives for perfection. Rarely requires supervision and does outstanding work. Responds calmly to potential or actual emotional, emergency or violent situations.”

        But Officer Carder has had troubles.

        In April 1996, while he worked briefly in District 3, he was reprimanded for removing his personal Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver from his car and dropping it in the street.

        “It was discovered a short time later lying in the middle of Warsaw Avenue,” states a reprimand, which cited him for “careless or imprudent” use of a weapon.

        In October that year, he was reprimanded and his pay temporarily reduced for being negligent in four police car accidents in eight months. They caused $3,600 in damages.

        “Dan's performance, attitude and driving skills have taken a sharp turn for the worse,” Lt. Arthur T. Frey, then a District 3 supervisor, wrote in Officer Carder's 1996 annual review.

        Of 13 complaints about him since 1995, Officer Carder has been cleared all but once.

        In that case, he was accused of hitting a 15-year-old girl after she was handcuffed for fighting, bloodying her nose and loosening a tooth. The Office of Municipal Investigations, a city agency independent of the police department, recommended that he be disciplined.

        A review by the police department's Internal Investigations Section is pending.

        In three cases, investigators determined that Officer Carder was justified in using force.

        In one of those, he used the butt of a loaded shotgun to try to subdue 18-year-old Darrell Benefield, who was suspected of having a gun. Officer Carder told investigators he probably didn't hit Mr. Benefield hard enough because the blow didn't subdue him.

        Although his use of force was found to be reasonable, Officer Carder was lectured about the dangers of hitting a suspect with a loaded weapon that might go off.

        Policing experts say it's always difficult to substantiate complaints of excessive use of force. And that's why police departments across the country are adopting “early warning systems” that track such incidents.

        Cincinnati has had its Early Warning Profile System since the 1970s to keep track of complaints filed against officers. The department uses it to flag officers who may need counseling or retraining in certain police tactics, says Capt. Greg Snider, commander of the Internal Investigations Section.

        Capt. Snider's records show that Officer Carder has been flagged twice since 1997, when the system was computerized: Once in April 1998 for using chemical spray on nine suspects within 12 months, and again that November after three complaints of excessive use of force in a 12-month period.

        Officer Carder's supervisors held a hearing with him on the use of chemical spray, but records do not indicate the outcome.

        Some officers don't like the system because it doesn't differentiate between a police officer doing desk duty in Oakley and a beat cop working nights in Over-the-Rhine.

        “Just because you're identified as using this (force or chemical irritant) so many times doesn't mean you did anything wrong,” Capt. Snider says. “It's just one of those checks and balances we have in place.”

"Particularly humane'
        If Officer Carder has detractors, he has supporters, too.

        Former Purcell Marian High School Principal Dennis Johnson commended Officer Carder in May 1993 for the way he dealt with two students who had broken into the high school.

        “What was good about this police officer was how gently he handled the kids, the theft,” Mr. Johnson recalled recently. “Justice was meted out ... but he was particularly humane to a kid who was very afraid.”

        Officer Carder also was commended for being named “Top Gun” on Nov. 9, 1995, by the Firearms Training Unit for achieving the best score out of all the officers present that day. Records show he was awarded “Top Gun” again during 1999 annual firearms training.

        In October 1998, the Misleh family sent a letter thanking Officer Carder and other officers for their “professional and courteous manner and the arrest of the armed robbers of our store.”

        Kam Misleh remembers it well. Two men entered his Skyline Chili restaurant in Walnut Hills with shotguns. Five employees were locked in a refrigerator while the gunmen stole money and surveillance equipment.

        The employees got out and called police.

        By the time Mr. Misleh, the owner, arrived, police cars were everywhere. Officer Carder and his partner caught one of the robbers within two hours, he said.

        Police records show Officer Carder was commended in April 1998 for leading his shift in criminal arrests. He also has been commended for how he dispersed a crowd in Corryville, for helping catch a subject wanted for armed robbery and for his “professional and courteous handling of a family situation.”

        “Here's an individual who loves the job, loves to serve the community,” says Lt. Col. Walter McAlpin, former commander of the Patrol Bureau who retired several years ago. “He's a very good police officer in my eyes.”

        And good officers get into bad situations, Lt. Col. McAlpin says.

        “You can't choose, you can't pick where you want to be. You can't pick the situation where you want to be,” he says. “Every time you're eight hours on the job, your whole goal is to come home that night.”

Two shootings
        Officer Carder might have remained an anonymous blue uniform were it not for the shootings.

        The latest happened March 14 near Reading Road in Avondale. Officer Carder and two other policemen shot and killed Alfred Lamont Pope, a man suspected in a robbery. The crime was so violent, police say, that eight gold caps were pulled from one robbery victim's teeth.

        Four different investigations are under way to determine whether the officers were justified in firing their guns. It could be months before any of those findings are released.

        Police Chief Thomas Streicher says he hasn't drawn any conclusions about the shooting, but he doesn't have any reason to doubt the officers' actions.

        “I've told each of them that I was very proud of them for the bravery they displayed and the courage they displayed. And I thanked them for doing their job,” he says.

        The first shooting happened Nov. 6, 1998 — what Officer Carder characterized as “a bad day” in a taped interview with homicide detectives. That day he shot Timothy Blair, who was suspected of stealing Aleve from the Walnut Hills Kroger.

        Officer Carder told investigators last October that he smashed Mr. Blair's window with his nightstick when Mr. Blair wouldn't get out of his car. The officer said he then tried to pull Mr. Blair out through the shattered window — a technique he said he has used successfully in the past “because of his large size and strength.”

        Officer Carder said his arm became tangled up in Mr. Blair's jacket as the man was driving away. He shot, he said, because he feared he would be dragged to death.

        A 5-year-old boy was critically injured when Mr. Blair's car crashed after the shooting.

        “It's probably one of the worst situations I've ever been in,” Officer Carder said last year. “I see a lot of violence a lot of the time. This was the first time that I've felt like it was me or him.”

        Mr. Blair pleaded guilty and was convicted of robbery and felonious assault of Officer Carder and a Kroger security employee. Still, he says, he didn't deserve to be shot.

        “Once my car cranked up, he went into overdrive,” Mr. Blair says. “They've got that Clint Eastwood attitude — that "shoot, stop at all costs.' It could have been anybody instead of me.”

        The Office of Municipal Investigations, the police department's homicide unit and the Hamilton County prosector's office all determined Officer Carder was justified in the shooting.

        Officials, however, determined that he violated department rules by breaking Mr. Blair's window and trying to pull him through.

        A recommendation for discipline is pending until the Citizens Police Review Panel completes its investigation. Three witnesses to the shooting testified last week; Officer Carder and Mr. Blair have been asked to appear before the panel June 5.

"First line of defense'
        Today, Officer Carder is patrolling the streets in District 2, earning $45,370 a year. He was transferred out of District 4 in March following the Avondale shooting.

        Chief Streicher declines to talk about Officer Carder's personnel record. He says he can't keep track of specifics on all 1,000 city police officers.

        But the chief says Officer Carder has a good reputation. “He volunteers to work in neighborhoods plagued with problems,” Chief Streicher says. “Dan enjoys a reputation of being an exceptional, aggressive police officer here.”

        The nation's police officers must be able to think quickly in fast-moving situations, Chief Streicher says. “Do I need people who are aggressive? I need people who are properly trained,” he says.

        “All the cops have to play by the rules, and everyone else is breaking the rules.”

        Every shooting or instance where force is used must be examined carefully for circumstances facing the officer, says Michael Snowden, Cincinnati police chief from 1992 to 1998.

        Unlike the movies, cops aren't trained to shoot out a tire or shoot a gun out of somebody's hand, he says.

        “The officers are trained to shoot to kill. When you're making that decision, you're making a decision to shoot and kill someone,” Chief Snowden says. “Unless you've done the job, it's hard for people to understand.”

        Officer Carder has seen the risks first-hand.

        He was one of the first officers on the scene after Officer Daniel Pope and Spec. Ronald Jeter were shot to death on Dec. 5, 1997, while trying to serve a felony domestic-violence warrant.

        He saw his fellow officers lying in their own blood, gunshot wounds to the back of their heads.

        Colleagues say that kind of experience gives cops a perspective that's difficult for anyone else to understand.

        “It's the people who are in the uniformed cars, they're the first line of defense,” Lt. Col. McAlpin says. “They're the people who allow us to live in the kind of safe community we live in.”


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