Tuesday, May 08, 2001
Text of prosecutor's statement on the indictment
Here are comments Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen made at his Monday news conference on the indictment of Officer Stephen Roach for the shooting death of Timothy Thomas:
My office has completed its presentation of evidence to the grand jury regarding the death of Timothy Thomas. While the law prohibits me from disclosing specifics about the evidence presented to the grand jury, I can say the presentation was very thorough and fair.
Normally, a grand jury hears 10-20 cases a day, with one or two witnesses supplying the testimony, or one police officer summarizing the evidence that exists in the case. Such an expedited process is needed for the grand jury to handle the approximately 10,000 cases presented to them each year.
On one hand, the Timothy Thomas case was handled like any other case. One of the two sitting grand juries heard the case along with dozens of other cases during the three week jury duty. They heard testimony, were given the applicable law and the possible crimes committed in the death of Timothy Thomas.
At the same time, we would be ignoring reality to treat this like any other case. Public reaction to the death of Mr. Thomas has fractured our community and led to violence and unrest. Some have even questioned whether the criminal justice system would fairly and completely investigate the death of Mr. Thomas.
My office was therefore committed to do everything in its power to reassure the people of Cincinnati and Hamilton County that the investigation was exhaustive and the presentation to the jury was thorough and fair. We must treat the merits of this case no different than any other, but I recognize that in this extraordinary atmosphere we must leave no doubt about the process.
The grand jury was presented with all the evidence in a manner normally reserved for trials. The publicly known and reported facts are these:
Mr. Thomas ignored the orders to stop of several police officers in the area of Vine and Republic streets during a foot pursuit in the early morning hours of April 7, 2001. A number of witnesses indicated that Mr. Thomas was wearing oversized pants, and that his hands were at his waist area holding his pants up as he ran.
The only information known to police officers pursuing Mr. Thomas, including officer Stephen Roach, was a physical description, that he was wanted on 14 arrest warrants, and that he continued to avoid arrest during the pursuit.
This is the scenario that confronted Officer Roach as he and Mr. Thomas met in the rear of a darkened, litter-strewn alley at 2:14 a.m. on April 7, 2001.
Rather than hearing a summary of the evidence, the grand jury heard from 20 witnesses. These witnesses included the mother of Timothy Thomas, police officers on the scene on the night of the Mr. Thomas' death, and officers involved in the investigation. The grand jury heard from civilians who witnessed part of the events that took place, they heard the testimony of the coroner who performed the autopsy of Mr. Thomas, and the firearms expert who examined the clothing of Mr. Thomas and the weapon which caused his death.
The grand jury viewed aerial and ground level photographs of the scene and several diagrams of the area involved in the chase and apprehension of Timothy Thomas. They viewed the tapes from the police cruisers equipped with cameras which recorded some of the events of that evening, listened to police communication tapes of the radio broadcasts of the officers involved in the pursuit of Mr. Thomas, and heard the taped statements Officer Roach as he described for homicide investigators the events of that evening.
The grand jury also physically examined the clothing of Mr. Thomas and the firearm of Stephen Roach used in the shooting. Finally, they heard testimony on the operation of the 9mm weapon assigned to Stephen Roach, and the training Cincinnati police officers go through in the use of firearms.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the grand jury given the various charges available to them when an individual - in this case Cincinnati police officer Roach - takes the life of another, in this case Timothy Thomas. As had been previously reported in the press, the potential charges include aggravated murder, murder, manslaughter, reckless homicide and negligent homicide. Obviously, the grand jury also had the option of returing a "no bill.'
Without going into the content of the two statements police officer Roach gave to homicide investigators, the grand jury was also given the option of a charge of obstructing official business, based on discrepancies in the two statements.
Again, taking into account the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings, I can tell you the grand jury deliberated long and hard over their decision. At the close of their deliberations, they chose to return a two-count indictment against Officer Roach.
Count One charges Stephen Roach with negligent homicide. This charge states that on April 7, 2001, Stephen Roach negligently caused the death of Timothy Thomas by means of a deadly weapon. This is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to six months in prison.
Count two is a charge of obstructing official business. This is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by up to 90 days in jail. The charge states that, the purpose was to prevent, obstruct, or delay the performance by a public official in the performance of his duties. Again, without going into detail, this charge pertains to the difference in the version of events given to homicide investigators by Stephen Roach on April 7 and again on April 10, 2001.
A lot of people in the community have expressed their opinions as to whether or not Stephen Roach should be charged with any crime, and if so opinions vary widely as to what charge would be appropriate. It is important to point out that none of these people had the opportunity to hear all of the facts surrounding this tragic incident. The grand jury that heard this case did have such an opportunity. But something even more important distinguishes the grand jury who heard this case from those who have spoken the loudest about what should happen.
The grand jury took an oath. The oath can be found in the Ohio Revised Code at section 2939.06. In that oath, each member of the grand jury promised to diligently inquire into all matters given to them, to present or charge no person with malice, hatred or ill will, nor to leave unpresented or uncharged any person through fear, favor or affection, and that in all of their presentments they promised to present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, according to the best of their skill and understanding.
In addition to instructions by a common pleas judge when they began their service, the grand jury was instructed again just before they began their deliberations in this case, of their function as a grand jury. This included the instruction that there is no public purpose to be served in indicting a person when it appears that the evidence would be insufficient to sustain a conviction, and that unjust or unfounded accusations should not be made against anyone.
On the other hand, they were told it is equally important that indictments be returned against those appearing upon an honest and impartial examination, to have probably committed a crime. Finally, the grand jury was instructed that "no grand juror has the right to permit their judgment to be influenced or controlled by any religious, social, political, or personal feeling.'
Finally, let me comment on the possible reaction to today's announcement. I know that emotions are running high over the tragic death of Timothy Thomas. But the case against Officer Roach cannot be decided based upon emotion.
To those who say that the charges are too light, and to those who say the charges are too severe, my response is the same. Withhold your judgment until you know all the facts. The proper place for judgment is in a trial before a jury of citizens of this community, where all of the evidence will be presented, and the full picture will be publicly known for the first time.
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Text of prosecutor's statement on the indictment
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