Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Accused cop cheered at pay hearing

Slain man's parents upset by comments

By Jane Prendergast and Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dozens of supporters of an indicted Cincinnati police officer packed a City Hall corridor Tuesday, cheering for the man accused of killing a suspect during a controversial arrest that now has him fighting to keep his pay.

        “Keep your head up, Dutch!” fellow officers shouted at Officer Robert Blaine Jorg.

[photo] Kristin Jorg (left), wife of Officer Robert Jorg, who was indicted in the death of Roger Owensby Jr., speaks Tuesday with Mr. Owensby's mother, Brenda Owensby, outside a hearing at City Hall.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        Neighbors hugged him. People from Carthage and Roselawn — part of his District 4 beat — patted him on the back as he squeezed through the crowd on his way to a hearing with city officials about his future.

        Officer Jorg smiled at first, grateful for the support. He ended the walk down the hall wiping tears from his eyes.

        More than 100 people waited while he spent an hour behind closed doors with city officials. Among those waiting: His wife and the dead suspect's mother.

        Kristin Jorg and Brenda Owensby stood face-to-face in the middle of the crowded hallway and spoke calmly.

        “I wanted to see the cop who killed my son,” Mrs. Owensby said. “I just wanted to see his face.”

        Mrs. Jorg said she was sorry someone died and that she hoped the Owensbys were OK.

        God will sort it out, Mrs. Owensby replied.

[photo] Officers Robert Jorg (right), and Patrick Cton hug as Officer Jorg arrives for an administrative hearing.
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        Officer Jorg, 28, was indicted last week in the death of Roger Owensby Jr. He faces more than five years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter and assault. He has been on paid leave since the Nov. 7 arrest, but city officials now want to make him wait for his trial without pay.

        That's not fair, Fraternal Order of Police officials and

        Officer Jorg's attorney argued, for two reasons — because he hasn't been convicted, and because secret, grand-jury evidence in the case has not been made public. Without those facts, city officials have no reason to take disciplinary action, argued FOP President Keith Fangman.

        The city's action, he said, “smacks of mean-spiritedness and vindictiveness.”

        As her husband talked with city officials, Mrs. Jorg said her part-time jobs at a Frank's store, YMCA and as a Mary Kay makeup consultant don't generate enough to pay their bills. Married for six years, she said she and her husband have been trying to have children.

        “He has no way to support his family if they decide to do this to him,” she said. “I don't see what purpose it will serve besides putting people out of a home.”

        Mr. Fangman said he expects a ruling within 10 days. Safety Director Kent Ryan said Tuesday he did not yet know when the decision would be made.

        A similar hearing for Officer Patrick Caton, who was indicted the same day on a misdemeanor assault charge, will be held later before Police Chief Tom Streicher.

        The supportive rally for Officer Jorg ended in more frustration and anger for Mrs. Owensby and her husband, Roger Sr., of College Hill. As police supporters applauded again for the officer after he left the hourlong hearing; she shouted back.

        “It's just ignorant,” she said. “There's no reason to clap when somebody has died — anybody.”

        Her husband, leaning against a wall and wearing his U.S. Postal Service uniform, shook his head sadly. For weeks the couple has shied away from public appearances, saying instead they wanted justice to work.

        “Whatever happens here, we as a city should want to find out what went wrong,” Mr. Owensby said. “Something went wrong and we don't know what it was. (Officer Jorg) says he went by the book.

        “Well, we need to find out if there is something wrong with the book or if he stepped away from the book.”

        While Officer Jorg's family says he has been judged without benefit of a trial, the Owensbys say their son has been demonized.

        Mr. Owensby was asphyxiated during his arrest in a Roselawn parking lot. Police said they sought him because he had escaped arrest during a drug investigation a week earlier.

        Marijuana and cocaine were found at the scene of his death Nov. 7.

        Five officers were involved in the arrest. Three testified before the grand jury against Officers Caton and Jorg, who have not yet told their versions of the story.

        The Tuesday shouts in the hallway of “Semper Fi, Blaine!” and “Nobody ever dies who gave up!” were painful barbs that Mrs. Owensby finally decided she couldn't ignore.

        As the rally broke up, and a counterprotestor shouted to be heard over the police voices, a woman in the crowd jeered: “You weren't there, how can you know what happened?”

        Mrs. Owensby charged into the crowd, but was gently restrained by another police officer.

        “That woman's just talking to be talking!” she shouted. “My son died. She wasn't there. She wasn't there.”

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