Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Call is made for special prosecutor

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's top lawyers will square off today with the city's lawmakers over who will handle the case against the officer charged in the April 7 shooting death of an unarmed African-American.

        City Council members say they want to bring in a special prosecutor to lead the case against Officer Stephen Roach, who faces misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and obstructing official business.

        But City Solicitor Faye Dupuis said Tuesday that City Council doesn't have the authority to appoint someone from the outside. And she said the city prosecutor's office is charged with prosecuting all misdemeanors in the city.

        “The council can only express its desires,” Ms. Dupuis said. “It is a suggestion to solicitors.”

        Councilwoman Alicia Reece, who is pushing for the special prosecutor, says it should be considered as more than a suggestion. She has already asked the city manager to make it happen and is hoping to get the council's support today.

        “Citizens have to have faith in the process,” she said. “We need to get the most competent and most objective (lawyers) we can get.”

        Ms. Reece questions the ability of the solicitor's office to handle the case in light of a track record that includes losing every arbitration case against a police officer fired for misconduct since 1996.

        As a result, the city has been forced to rehire 10 police officers who had been terminated for various violations.

        Deputy City Solicitor Bob Johnstone said the prosecutor's office involves different lawyers than the ones who handle arbitration cases, pointing out that the charges against Officer Roach are criminal.

        He said the city's record of prosecuting police officers on misdemeanors is a good one.

        On Monday a Hamilton County grand jury indicted Officer Roach on the two misdemeanor charges. Although Officer Roach has been stripped of his police powers, he is still being paid by the city and has been assigned to a desk job pending the outcome of a trial.

        At most, he faces six months in jail on the negligent homicide charge and 90 days in jail on the obstruction charge.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday that he supports bringing in a special prosecutor.

        “People need to know we are doing this fairly,” he said. “I think it helps put credibility in the process.”

        He acknowledged that he has not talked to city lawyers and is unfamiliar with the process.

        “But initially my reaction is favorable,” Mr. Luken said.

        Councilman Pat DeWine said that for months he has been trying to turn over prosecution of all misdemeanors to Hamilton County. He said the city's efforts are duplicative and costly to taxpayers.

        “The city should not be in the business of handling misdemeanors,” he said. “Not this case, not any cases.”

        Councilman John Cranley also supports Ms. Reece, saying her motion would help restore confidence in the system.

        Ms. Reece is also asking officials to answer two questions about the case and what might have led Officer Roach to shoot Timothy Thomas, 19.

        The first is why police dispatchers didn't tell officers that Mr. Thomas was wanted only on misdemeanor warrants. The other is why an off-duty police officer left a paid post to begin the pursuit of Mr. Thomas.

        Police Chief Thomas Streicher said Tuesday that the officer was well within his job description to go after Mr. Thomas, whom he recognized as being wanted.

        He also said the warrants weren't an issue for the dispatcher during the pursuit. And the types of warrants have no bearing on an officer's decision to use deadly force.

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