Thursday, January 04, 2001

Relatives rejoice over indictments

'Hallelujah,' grandmother says

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Essie Owensby heard two Cincinnati police officers had been indicted in the assault and death of her grandson, she let out a whoop.

        “Glory be!” she shouted. “Hallelujah.”

        Later, clutching a picture of Roger Owensby Jr. in the living room of her modest Fairmount Avenue home, the 66-year-old woman tried hard not to cry.

[photo] Essie Owensby, grandmother of Roger Owensby Jr., was surprised the officers were indicted.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        “I'm very much surprised,” she said. “The way all this other stuff is going on, with other peoples that's been killed by the police, I never thought this would happen.”

        Her relief is shared by other family members, including Mr. Owensby's mother and father, who worried officers in Cincinnati would never face charges in the killing of a suspect in police custody.

        “This shows he wasn't just another victim,” Ms. Owensby said of her 29- year-old grandson.

        She said the indictments are the first tangible evidence this case was being handled different from other fatal police encounters.

        “Nobody's life is worth dying,” she said. “But if it took his life to open people's eyes about what happened, then his life was worth dying for.”

[photo] Gary Owensby and Nitra Isham-Owensby, Roger Owensby Jr.'s cousin and aunt, talk about their loss.
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        Mr. Owensby died after allegedly being choked and hit by police officers outside a Roselawn gas station Nov. 7.

        On Wednesday, a Hamilton County grand jury indicted two of the five officers involved on misdemeanor assault and one on an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter.

        While two officers have been charged in Mr. Owensby's death, family attorney John Helbling said the issue reflects a departmentwide problem with inexperienced, improperly trained police officers.

        “They're not going to put the whole police division on trial, are they?” he said. “But that's what it comes down to.”

        The Owensby family will soon be filing a civil suit against the city based on those issues, he said.

        But no amount of money is going to take the pain away from Gary Owensby, Roger's cousin.

        “Now (the officers) are going to feel how it is to be on the other side of the law,” he said. “I am just glad to see some justice happen. It's a small step, but now maybe we can rest a little.”

        Sitting next to him on a small couch in his grandmother's home, his uncle and aunt shook their heads sadly.

        “It feels like there is some closure,” said Neta Isham-Owensby. “However it turns out, it won't bring Roger back.”

        In a corner, out of sight of his grandma and other relatives, 12-year-old Anthony Williams sucked hard on a water bottle and clenched his eyes.

        “My cousin did nothing but come out of a store,” he said quietly. “I want to fight, fight, fight.”

        In a near-whisper, Anthony said he has always distrusted police. But now he hates them.

        “I know how bad they can be,” the boy said, eyes downcast. “If I ever get to see them face to face, I'll knock 'em out. I'll knock them out, every last one of them.”

2 officers indicted in Owensby death
- Relatives rejoice over indictments
Family, friends support officers
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