Friday, November 10, 2000

Deaths raise call for federal probe


Leaders say blacks don't trust police

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Leaders of several Cincinnati African-American groups called Thursday for federal help to investigate police actions after two deaths at police hands in two days.

        The suffocation Tuesday of a man in Roselawn and shooting of a robbery suspect Wednesday in Pleasant Ridge proved what group leaders said they already knew — that the black community will continue to mistrust Cincinnati police officers.

[photo] Dr. Milton Hinton, (left) head of Cincinnati's NAACP chapter, and Aaron Greenlea, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, lead groups seeking seeking a federal investigation.
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        A rally outside City Hall is planned for Sunday.

        “History has taught us not to trust internal investigations, not to trust the police,” said Dr. Milton Hinton, president of the Cincinnati branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

        “Any death is too much. But two in 24 (hours)? We said, "No more.'”

        Both suspects were African-American. In both cases, black and white officers responded. But the fact that black officers were involved doesn't diminish the fact that Cincinnati, like many cities, breeds a police culture negative toward blacks, said the Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front.

        The group is best known for picketing downtown restaurants after they closed in July during the predominantly black Ujima and Coors Light Jazz festivals.

WHAT'S NEXT
    • More details: It's unclear when more information about the two incidents will be released by the Cincinnati Police Division. Saying too much too soon could compromise the detectives' work, Chief Tom Streicher said.
    • 2 p.m. Sunday: Rally on the Central Parkway side of Cincinnati City Hall, organized by the Cincinnati branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as well as other groups. The officials want a way to involve all citizens of the city and show that more than just the groups' leaders are concerned.
    • Next week: Mayor Charlie Luken said he'll meet with officials of the NAACP, Baptist Ministers Conference, Housing Opportunities Made Equal and African Methodist Episcopal Ministers Conference to talk about asking the U.S. Department of Justice for an independent review.
        The community questions don't bother Chief Tom Streicher, leader for almost two years of the 1,000-officer division. He called the scrutiny healthy and said he would be concerned if people weren't asking questions. Federal officials are welcome to watch how the internal investigations work, he said.

        The chief met with homicide officers Thursday, repeating that he has full confidence in their ability to accurately investigate.

        The police division revealed no new information Thursday about either case. Too many leaked facts could compromise either investigation, police said.

        Chief Streicher said again that Roger Owensby, the 29-year-old College Hill man who died Tuesday, was stopped by officers because they suspected him of committing a previous crime. The Rev. Mr. Lynch, at the black groups' press conference Thursday, said Mr. Owensby was chased only because he was black and might have looked like a suspect.

        “He was African-American, male — and sometimes, that's enough to be stopped by the police in Cincinnati,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said.

        Mr. Owensby died from what Hamilton County Coroner Carl Parrott Jr. called mechanical asphyxia, either by a choke hold or by officers “piling on” his back, or both. Five officers were involved in the arrest, about 8 p.m. Tuesday at Seymour Avenue and Langdon Farm Road. Exactly what crime Mr. Owensby was suspected in has not been disclosed.

        In Wednesday's shooting, Tim Pappas, one of three officers involved, was shot in the hand by the suspect, Jeffrey Irons, 30, of Chicago, as he struggled with police after allegedly attempting to shoplift from a nearby store. At one point, he grabbed an officer's weapon and shot Officer Pappas. Other officers then shot Mr. Irons, killing him.

        Officer Pappas recovered at home Thursday, suffering pain in his hand where the bullet pierced it, Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said.

        All the officers in both cases will be on paid leave for seven days. That is customary after such incidents, said police spokesman Lt. Ray Ruberg.

        In addition to the homicide unit's investigations, reviews of the incidents will be followed by the police division's Internal Investigations Section as well as the city's Office of Municipal Investigations.

        Before the renewed charges of racial intolerance, Chief Streicher, Mr. Fangman and Sentinels President Scotty Johnson, met with members of the black community through Councilman Charlie Winburn's new public safety roundtable. The group meets regularly, with its members representing various community groups that have historically felt police officers don't understand them, including African-Americans and gay people.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said the dialogue from those meetings has been helpful, but that it's time for action.

        “Dialogue is the first step,” he said. “But now, we have to move beyond that.”

- Deaths raise call for federal probe
Deaths show bad judgment, leaders say
       



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