Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Police chief backs officers who fired beanbags

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher on Tuesday strongly supported the six SWAT officers under investigation by the FBI, calling them “damn good people” who are among his best.

        Five of the officers returned to duty Monday after almost two weeks' paid leave following their April 14 shooting of beanbags into a reportedly peaceful crowd in Over-the-Rhine.

Defended decision

        At the same time, he defended his decision to withdraw other officers from joint task forces with the FBI. He said he did it to avoidclaims the department was trying to influence the FBI's investigation into the beanbag shooting.

        Cincinnati police still are cooperating with FBI investigations, he said, including a search for the bandana-wearing man suspected in at least four recent robberies.

        The six officers were taken off duty after a police psychologist said the federal scrutiny left them too emotionally distressed to work. Part of their stress, the chief said, comes from being forbidden to publicly discuss what happened.

        He said he has not come to a conclusion about what happened that Saturday afternoon at Elm and Liberty streets. But from the facts he has, he said, “my faith in them has not been shaken one bit.”

FBI acted fast

        The police division's immediate internal investigation was halted two days after the incident, when the FBI announced a full criminal case was under way. The speed with which the FBI acted has some local officials angry and confused.

        For comparison, they point out the FBI has not started a criminal investigation into the shooting April 7 of Timothy Thomas, 19, by Officer Steve Roach, which sparked riots.

        The SWAT officers were in the area after Mr. Thomas' funeral, the chief said, in part to look out for Gov. Bob Taft, who attended the service.

        The officers who returned to work are: Spc. Todd Bruner, 31, who teaches defensive tactics and physical fitness at the training academy; Sgt. Eric Hall, 41, who has FBI advanced sniper training; John Mercado, 34, a 10-year veteran; Tim Pappas, 34, a District 2 officer on the force since 1997; and Jennifer Ventre, 34, a 10-year officer who also trains recruits at the academy.

        Sgt. Arthur Schultz, 37, a 10-year veteran and undercover drug investigator, remains on leave.

        State Trooper Bradley Bishop, also involved in the beanbag shooting, has not been put on leave. The Ohio State Highway Patrol is conducting a review.


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