Thursday, May 24, 2001

Wary of Feds, city signs up legal help


William Martin used to work in Justice Dept.

By Robert Anglen and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Wary of being steamrolled by federal investigators, Cincinnati officials Wednesday hired a top Washington lawyer to guide them through the Justice Department's investigation of the city's police division.

[photo] William Martin was dubbed by Time magazine as Monica Lewinsky's "minister of defense"
(Associated Press file photo)
| ZOOM |
        The city's new lawyer said he will not only advise Cincinnati officials, but also will conduct his own investigation into allegations of police misconduct.

        The lawyer, William R. “Billy” Martin, is a former Justice Department attorney with ties to Cincinnati who has handled hundreds of police misconduct cases.

        Although city officials said they still intend to cooperate with investigators, the hiring of Mr. Martin is one of several recent moves that suggest they are increasingly apprehensive about the federal scrutiny.

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        City officials sent a letter to investigators last week in an attempt to set the agenda for the investigation, and on Wednesday, they canceled several meetings with two Justice Department lawyers.

        “We are making sure the Department of Justice works with us, not against us,” Mayor Charlie Luken said. “I don't want someone getting their politically correct card punched at our expense.”

        The stakes of the investigation are high because the Justice Department could file a federal lawsuit against the city if it finds serious problems. The city also could be asked to sign a consent decree that gives a federal court authority to enforce reforms of the police division.

        The investigation comes almost seven weeks after a Cincinnati police officer fatally shot Timothy Thomas, an unarmed Over-the-Rhine man. The incident sparked several days of violence and protests, thrusting the city and its racial unrest squarely in the nation's spotlight.

        Despite promises of cooperation from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who oversees the Justice Department, Mr. Luken said the city isn't taking any chances.

        “Ashcroft made it clear he wants to mend fences with the African-American community, which is fine,” said Mr. Luken, who asked for the federal investigation after April's violence. “We need to be careful that we are not being used.”

        To ensure that, the city solicitor's office hired Mr. Martin, although final details of his contract have not been hammered out.

Lawyer has faced high-profile cases
       



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