Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Police pulled from FBI teams

Beanbag investigation upsets local officials

By Jane Prendergast and Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has withdrawn his officers from joint task forces with the FBI. The move comes as local authorities question the FBI's quick decision to investigate the six Cincinnati officers accused of firing beanbags at peaceful protesters April 14.

        The most high-profile task force, the Violent Crimes Task Force, puts Cincinnati and other local law-enforce ment officers with FBI agents to investigate such things as violent fugitives, drug abuse and organized crime.

        A typical example of the kind of work that task force does is the arrest in Westwood this year of two men wanted in Alabama on murder charges.

        Officials have been angry and confused about why the FBI launched a full criminal investigation barely 48 hours after the beanbag incident, when the U.S. Department of Justice often takes months to make such a move. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said Monday he doesn't think the feds should even be involved in the beanbag investigation.

        Dan Nelson, spokesman for the Justice Department, would not comment about the beanbag case. The six SWAT officers, all on paid leave, allegedly jumped out of three cruisers at Elm and Liberty streets and fired beanbags into a calm crowd after the funeral of Timothy Thomas, killed April 7 by a Cincinnati police officer.

        Three former members of the Violent Crimes Task Force moved back into the criminal investigations section of the Cincinnati Police Division on Monday.

        Chief Streicher did not return phone calls Monday to explain how many officers he withdrew and why.

        “We certainly hope to continue to work with the Cin cinnati Police Division,” said Ed Boldt, spokesman for the Cincinnati office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

        Monday, Mr. Allen said he thinks the feds should be spending their time investigating any hate crimes that occurred during the rioting sparked by the shooting of the unarmed Mr. Thomas by Officer Steve Roach.

        “The Justice Department generally doesn't ... sharpen a pencil unless seven people in Washington approve,” he said. “They're not known for the speed within which they work. Here ... the full weight and fury of the Justice Department swoops down on the Cincinnati Police Division. And there are many in this community that are questioning that and questioning the motives.”

        The FBI spearheads several other task forces on which local law-enforcement officers and other agencies are assigned to work with FBI agents. They include units to investigate health care fraud and environmental crimes.


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