Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Review panel blasts police shooting probes

Citizens: Investigations poorly done

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Investigations into a controversial Cincinnati police shooting were so poorly conducted that the panel of citizens assigned to review the investigations could not decide whether the officer should have fired his weapon or not.

        Members of the Citizens Police Review Panel announced Monday night that they cannot say whether Officer Daniel Carder acted appropriately during an incident two years ago when he shot and paralyzed a shoplifting suspect in a Walnut Hills grocery store parking lot.

        There is no way to tell, members said, because investigations by the Cincinnati Police Division's homicide and internal investigations units and by the Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) left too many unexplored contradictions in witnesses' testimony.

  • Adopt a policy about officers reaching into vehicles. Officer Daniel Carder's attempt to physically extract suspect Timothy Blair from his car seems reckless. A formal policy against such things might have prevented Mr. Blair's injuries and the deaths earlier this year of Officer Kevin Crayon, who reached into a car driven by a 12-year-old boy in a situation that ended up killing them both.
  • The police division's Internal Investigations Section needs always to follow its procedure on identifying any discrepancies in an investigation. And the city's Office of Municipal Investigation should adopt such a policy and heed it.
  • City Manager John Shirey should analyze how opinions from Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen influence IIS and OMI decisions.
  • People who testify in any excessive-force investigation should review and sign their statements.
        And that, Chairman Keith Borders said, means it's no wonder some Cincinnatians are suspicious of the police division and the perceived protection of it by City Hall.

        “We're asking the questions that people want to ask,” said Mr. Borders, a lawyer. “The community wanted to scrutinize the police. That's what we've done here.”

        Safety Director Kent Ryan and Police Chief Tom Streicher had not yet seen the report, said Greg Baker, assistant safety director. He sat through the meeting reading the 25-page document.

        “We'll take all these recommendations under advisement,” he said.

        City Manager John Shirey and Mayor Charlie Luken got copies of the report Friday but were not available Monday to comment.

        The review panel was formed in January 1999 by a vote of City Council after public outcry over several police controversies, including the killing by police in 1997 of a mentally ill man who wielded a brick.

        The Fraternal Order of Police opposed the idea, say ing the city already has an adequate system of review. The review panel is strictly advisory.

        The incident, on Nov. 6, 1998, started when a Kroger security guard thought he saw Timothy Blair steal some over-the-counter medication. The guard told Officer Carder, who was working an off-duty detail at the store.

        Officer Carder caught up with Mr. Blair at his car, tried to pull him out and said his arm and watch got caught in Mr. Blair's coat, causing him to be dragged when Mr. Blair started to pull away.

        The officer said he tried spraying Mr. Blair with chemical irritant first, but shot Mr. Blair when he thought his life was in danger. Mr. Blair's foot hit the gas, causing his car to slam into a van, which then lurched onto a sidewalk, pinning 5-year-old Donald Bush III underneath.

        Donald suffered permanent injuries, stemming from swelling on his brain. The shooting left Mr. Blair in a wheelchair.

        The police division exonerated Officer Carder, but he was cited for several errors, including shattering the car window and trying to pull the man out. OMI also ruled the shooting justified but recommended discipline against the officer for tactical errors.

        But the panel found several unresolved discrepancies in witnesses' accounts. Among them: whether the officer and Mr. Blair had any kind of contact before Mr. Blair got into his car; which direction and how fast Mr. Blair's car was going when Officer Carder fired the two shots.

        If panel members made a decision, they'd be doing no better than the previous investigators they criticized, Mr. Borders said.

        “Somebody's got to stop and analyze and determine: What are the facts?” he said. “They haven't done that.”

        FOP President Keith Fangman blasted the report.

        “I'm sure the professional investigators at homicide, internal, OMI and the prosecutor's office find it humorous that untrained civilians pretending to be investigators are being so critical,” he said.

        Officer Carder remains on duty. He still declines to talk about the case because of a pending lawsuit. Mr. Blair, 45, was convicted of theft and felonious assault.


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