Monday, November 27, 2000

Grand jury to get police death case

Protests raised after Owensby died in custody

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Hamilton County grand jury will begin hearing evidence this week about the Nov. 7 death of a College Hill man who suffocated in Cincinnati police custody.

        The grand jury investigation could be announced as early as today, said a source who asked not to be named.

        The grand jury is expected to hear evidence and testimony about the death of Roger Owensby Jr. in Roselawn. Prosecutor Mike Allen, whose office will oversee the grand jury investigation, could not be reached for comment late Sunday.

        Mr. Allen has sparred for weeks with Cincinnati City Council members, who have demanded a special prosecutor from outside his office. Mr. Allen has repeatedly refused to step aside and has said he would take as much time as needed to investigate the Owensby case.

        Mr. Owensby, 29, died after being arrested in the parking lot of a Sunoco station in Roselawn. Officers stopped him, police said, because they recognized him as the man at least one of them tried to arrest about a week earlier.

        Exactly what Mr. Owensby was sought for has not been made clear, although police officials say the officers were asked to pay special attention in the area after reports of drug dealing.

        Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Carl Parrott Jr. said Mr. Owensby died from mechanical asphyxia, likely from either a choke hold or from officers “piling on” him.

        The death prompted an uproar at City Hall and among some of Cincinnati's African-American leaders, who allege that police officers practice racial profiling, or targeting people because of their skin color.

        Top police administrators have staunchly denied that, saying Mr. Owensby was stopped because officers recognized him specifically.

        Whether the five officers directly involved in Mr. Owensby's death will talk, if subpoenaed, was not clear. They had been exercising their constitutional right not to speak about the incident. They could continue to do that in the courtroom.


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