Sunday, November 19, 2000

Drugs found where suspect died

It doesn't explain death of Owensby, chief says

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's police chief is playing down the discovery of drugs at the scene of a suspect's death, saying what's more important to him is how the man died at the hands of his officers.

        Chief Tom Streicher said Saturday his detectives are preparing a summary of facts that could be presented to Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen early next week. It will include that crack and marijuana were found in connection with the Nov. 7 death of Roger Owensby while in police custody.

        But on Saturday, no answers were available about when the substances were found, where they were found or who turned them over to the office of Hamil ton County Coroner Carl Parrott Jr.

        While the presence of the drugs might explain why Mr. Owensby, 29, ran from officers that night in Roselawn, the chief said, the drugs don't help clear up how the man was suffocated.

        “That's my concern: How did he die? What occurred there?” Chief Streicher said. “This is a homicide investigation, a death investigation. This is not a drug investigation.”

        Mr. Owensby, of College Hill, was arrested a little before 8 p.m. in the parking lot of the Sunoco station at Seymour Avenue and Langdon Farm Road after he ran and officers caught him. He was handcuffed and sprayed with chemical irritant. A few minutes later, officers noticed he was unresponsive and called for medical help. Mr. Owensby was declared dead at 8:47 p.m.

        Police officers, on patrol in the area to curb reported drug activity, had been keeping their eyes out for Mr. Owensby for about a week since a previous encounter with him. He bolted from them then also.

        How and where the drugs were found at the scene — and whether either substance actually belonged to Mr. Owensby — is not yet certain enough to discuss, the chief said. The lack of information, he said, is partly because investigators don't have statements from the five officers involved. So far, they have exercised their constitutional right to remain silent.

        Evidence can arrive at the coroner's office in several ways, Chief Streicher said, including on a body and in the person's clothes. If found at a scene, it can also be packaged separately and sent to the coroner's lab for testing.

        Dr. Parrott's office also has disclosed that tests showed Mr. Owensby had not swallowed any crack, as had been rumored, but that he did have traces of marijuana in his bloodstream.

        The death and resulting confusion over information has sparked battles at City Hall, including calls for the resignation of City Manager John Shirey for allegedly mishandling the overseeing of the investigation and accusations that the chief either did not have enough information or was withholding it.

        But the chief insisted Saturday that he knows everything he needs to about the investigation. He lets detectives do their work without micro-managing them, he said. The homicide unit is historically tight-lipped about most investigations.

        The chief said he knew substances suspected to be crack and pot were found at the scene, he just refused to say so until tests confirmed officers' suspicions.

        The results of the tests done by Dr. Parrott's office were released before the chief received them. Dr. Parrott could not be reached for comment Saturday.

        Chief Streicher said if he has to choose between saying little and standing accused of withholding facts or saying too much and fouling up the investigation, he'll choose the former. Imagine how magnified the current outcry would be, he said, if incorrect information got out or if the investigation was botched.


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