Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Tristaters reactions split

All agree there's nothing to cheer about

By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In every corner of Greater Cincinnati, people huddled around TVs on Tuesday evening to watch Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen tell a waiting city whether a police officer would face charges for firing a single shot that killed an unarmed 19-year-old man.

        But nowhere was there cheering when Mr. Allen read the news: Officer Stephen Roach would face one misdemeanor count of negligent homicide and one count of obstruction of official business.

        The news seemed to make almost no one happy — not those who said they thought Officer Roach was doing his job, not those who thought what he did was murder, not those suspicious that the decision on whether to indict would be motivated more by politics than justice.

        Patrons of the King of Clubs bar in Walnut Hills didn't think the officer would be indicted.

        “When have you ever heard of a white cop being indicted for killing a black man?” asked Jonathan Holmes as he sipped his vodka and cranberry juice.

        Madeline Johnson and her friend Deborah Bogie heard the news on the radio, sitting in a Jeep Cherokee in a Kroger parking lot in Roselawn.

        The indictments disappointed them. They thought the charge should have been reckless homicide, a felony. “There's a difference between negligence and recklessness,” said Mrs. Johnson, a Springdale resident. “It was more than just an accident.”

        Still, Ms. Bogie said the charge seemed logical because it was a “compromise.” But she predicted community reaction could be more unrest if Officer Roach is acquitted of those charges.

        Some shoppers at a Liberty Township supermarket in Butler County were satisfied with the grand jury decision.

        “When you look at it from the black community's point of view, this is not going to make them happy. But, I do feel like (Officer Roach) was doing his job. But perhaps he did it too aggressively,” said Naomi Ormes, 58, of Liberty Township, a gift shop owner. “I'm not in that situation, so it's hard to know. But I don't agree with violence — from either side.”

        Glenda Pottorf of South Lebanon called the charges a slap on the wrist. “I think the family didn't get any justice for the death of their son,” the 37-year-old factory worker said. “No offense to police officers, but I think they can kill you and get away with it. ... Cops can be murderers.”

        Ranada Jones, 15, a freshman at Withrow High School and a Mount Washington resident, said she was thankful that the police officer will face a jury on criminal charges.

        “He shot and killed that man, and that's not right,” she said. “They could have waited and got him later that night at his home. It wasn't right.”

        To Tom Hagen, 43, a welder from Independence, Ky., the charges seemed politically expedient. “They had to charge him with something to please the city,” he said. “I think a police officer put in a bad part of town at the wrong time of night, (Officer Roach) has to do what he has to do."

        Lois Harden, 44, of Hamilton, said Officer Roach had been made a “sacrificial lamb. ... I think it's a shame (he was indicted). ... Even if he got just six months in jail, what a shame. ... We pay the police to protect us, but then we do this? I could go on and on.”

        She and others said Mr. Thomas shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place.

        “Raise your children to respect the law and they won't be shot in some dark alley,” said Karen Martin, 52, an independent business owner. “I grew up in New Miami, 52 percent black. I have nothing against black people. I don't think that officer shot (Mr. Thomas) because he was black. He didn't chase him because he was black. But the officer was indicted because the guy he shot was black.”

        Some said they thought Officer Roach was doing his job. Anderson Township resident Nigel Waters thought the grand jury made amistake by indicting the officer.

        “Police have a job to do,” Mr. Waters said. “When police say "Stop,' you stop. It was a dark alley. Maybe the man reached for his belt and the officer reacted. But it comes back to this: When police say "Stop,' you stop.”

        Robert Darisaw of West wood wasn't satisfied. “The most he can get is six months. ... That's the price you pay for (killing) a black man in Cincinnati.”

        Leonard Cathey of Kennedy Heights, sitting at King of Clubs, said the grand jury's decision to indict Officer Roach on misdemeanor charges was “just wrong.”

        But he said the decision offered a glimmer of hope.

        “This is the first time I can remember that a grand jury came back with any kind of an indictment against a police officer,” Mr. Cathey said. “I hate to say it, but that seems to be a start in the right direction.”

        Reporters Patrick Crowley, Ben L. Kaufman, John Eckberg, Amy Higgins, Sue Kiesewetter, Janice Morse, Cliff Peale, Ray Schaefer, Walt Schaefer, Randy Tucker and Earnest Winston contributed to this article.

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