Sunday, April 08, 2001

Officer shoots, kills suspect


Man was unarmed, wanted on misdemeanor charges

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old man Saturday morning in Over-the-Rhine, drawing sharp criticism from residents who allege city police are using excessive force against African-Americans.

        Authorities said Timothy Thomas was shot in the chest shortly after 2 a.m. by Officer Stephen Roach, a four-year veteran. Mr. Thomas is an African-American; Officer Roach is white.

Thomas
Thomas
        According to police, Officer Roach had been helping two off-duty officers who had spotted Mr. Thomas in the 1300 block of Vine Street.

        Mr. Thomas was wanted by police for 14 failures to appear in court on various misdemeanors and traffic charges. The two officers — Robert Jones and David Damico — broadcast Mr. Thomas' description over police radios.

        Officer Roach responded to the call and chased Mr. Thomas for five minutes.

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        Late Saturday night, police officials would not elaborate on what happened when Officer Roach caught Mr. Thomas near the intersection of Thirteenth and Republic streets.

        Mr. Thomas was shot once and died at University Hospital at 3:02 a.m., said Hamilton County Coroner Carl Parrott Jr.

        Investigators did not find a weapon at the scene, said Lt. Ray Ruberg, police spokesman.

        Officers are trained to fire their guns only if they fear for their lives, leaving investigators to determine “what kind of threat was present,” Lt. Ruberg said.

        Officer Roach has been placed on paid administrative leave. That is standard procedure when an officer fatally shoots someone, Lt. Ruberg said.

[photo] Timothy Thomas was fatally shot Saturday morning on Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Homicide investigators will interview Officer Roach, who must receive psychiatric counseling before returning to work.

        The death of Mr. Thomas comes five months after another African-American, Roger Owensby Jr. of College Hill, died of manual asphyxiation soon after being taken into Cincinnati police custody. He was arrested at a Roselawn gas station parking lot.

        In early January, Hamilton County grand jurors leveled criminal charges against two officers accused of choking and hitting Mr. Owensby Nov. 7. They await trial.

        Members of the group Cincinnati Black United Front and Mr. Thomas' family gathered Saturday afternoon near the scene of the shooting. They allege the incident stemmed from racial profiling and police brutality.

        On March 14, the American Civil Liberties Union and Cincinnati Black United Front filed a lawsuit accusing the department of 30 years of illegally targeting and harassing blacks on the basis of race.

        Those allegations surfaced again Saturday night among friends and relatives of Mr. Thomas.

        “Trigger-happy” was how Monique Wilcox, the mother of Mr. Thomas' 3-month-old son, described Officer Roach's behavior.

15 DEAD IN CONFLICT WITH POLICE
  Fourteen men and one boy - all African-American - died in conflicts with Cincinnati police since 1995.
• Harvey Price.
• Date of death: Feb. 1, 1995.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Randy Rengering.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Darrell Price.
• Date of death: April 4, 1996.
• Cause of death: Restrained while agitated.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Kevin Osuna and Samuel Igel.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Lorenzo Collins.
• Date of death: Feb. 23, 1997.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Douglas Depodesta.
• Administrative action: Counseled and exonerated.

• Daniel Williams.
• Date of death: Feb. 2, 1998.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Kathleen Conway, also shot.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Jermaine Lowe.
• Date of death: June 3, 1998.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Scott Bode, Scott Krauser and Michael Ammann.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Randy Black.
• Date of death: July 17, 1998.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Joseph Eichhorn.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Michael Carpenter.
• Date of death: March 19, 1999.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Michael Miller III and Brent McCurley.
• Administrative action: Reprimanded and assigned extra training.

• James King.
• Date of death: Aug. 20, 1999.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Randy Webb, Rachel Folk, Jason Drach and Adrian Gibson.*
• Carey Tompkins.
• Date of death: Oct. 16, 1999.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Craig Ball.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Alfred Pope.
• Date of death: March 14, 2000.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Daniel Carder, Kenneth Grubbs, Jason Lamb.
• Administrative action: Exonerated.

• Courtney Mathis.
• Date of death: Sept. 1, 2000.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Kevin Crayon, killed.*

• Roger Owensby.
• Date of death: Nov. 7, 2000.
• Cause of death: Asphyxiation.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Patrick Caton and Robert Jorg, both leveled with criminal charges.

• Jeffrey Irons.
• Date of death: Nov. 8, 2000.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Frederick Gilmer.*

• Adam Wheeler.
• Date of death: Jan. 31, 2001
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officers Craig Gregoire and Steven Maddox.*

• Timothy Thomas.
• Date of death: April 7, 2001.
• Cause of death: Shot.
• Officer(s) name: Officer Stephen Roach.*
       * Investigations still pending. Source: Cincinnati Police Division.

        “He was the best thing that ever happened to me. Nothing they can do to bring him back,” Ms. Wilcox said.

        She said Mr. Thomas, her boyfriend for a year, never owned a weapon and showed no violent tendencies. He had left to buy a pack of cigarettes from a nearby store about an hour before the shooting, she said.

        Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman defended Officer Roach. He said Saturday night that he talked to Officer Roach and several officers earlier in the day.

        When Officer Roach approached Mr. Thomas, the suspect appeared to have a gun in his waistband, Mr. Fangman said. Police officials did not release details to support Mr. Fangman's claim.

        “Anytime officers encounter a suspect and a suspect acts in a way in which the officer fears for his life, that officer based on Supreme Court case law has the right to defend themselves if they feel their life is in jeopardy,” he said. “I caution the police critics to allow the investigation to play out. I don't think (Officer Roach) would fire his weapon unless he felt that his life was in jeopardy.”

        Deborah Williams of Cincinnati Black United Front said members would meet at City Hall at 3 p.m. Monday to protest the shooting. The group emerged after a series of racially charged incidents last year.

       



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