Friday, August 17, 2001

Study of police moves forward

Federal investigators back in town

By John J. Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        U.S. Department of Justice investigators have been in Cincinnati this week talking to senior police officials, observing training and operations, and meeting with others throughout the community.

        A team of investigators will spend at least part of the day today observing police communications operations.

        Since their investigation of the Cincinnati Police Division began in June, Justice Department lawyers have interviewed some two dozen city officials and dozens of others around town, from community council leaders to alleged victims of racial profiling and police violence.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        The investigators also have been supplied with thousands of pages of documents, say attorneys representing the city. The Justice Department gave City Hall a six-page letter requesting reports, complaints, videotapes and other documents related to the division, its use of force and training.

        City attorneys say all those documents have been provided, and as of Thursday there were no outstanding requests for interviews with city officials. There was no indication how soon the Justice Department might issue the findings of its investigation.

        A Justice Department spokesman confirmed investigators were in Cincinnati this week, but would not comment on the progress of the inquiry.

        Mayor Charlie Luken asked for the investigation after the April riots, the worst civil unrest since 1968. Protests and rioting followed the death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was running from police when he was shot in Over-the-Rhine.

        Early in its investigation, the Justice Department targeted for interviews victims of alleged police abuses. Alphonse Gerhardstein, an attorney representing Cincinnati Black United Front in a racial profiling suit against the city, said he helped arrange a number of those interviews.

        Mr. Gerhardstein said his sense was that investigators were more interested now in talking to community leaders and police officials.

        Charles Clingman, head of the Walnut Hills Area Council, spoke with investigators Tuesday.

        Mr. Clingman said his interview with three investigators was informal.

        “It was general questions about the neighborhood — describe the neighborhood, and what is your relationship with the police in the neighborhood,” he said. They wanted to know whether he met regularly with police District 4 leaders (he doesn't), whether he thinks business controls city government (he does), and who the religious leaders in his neighborhood were.

        They weren't looking for anything specific, Mr. Clingman said.

        “I didn't have one question directed at me as to, are police doing their job?” he said. “It came up, but not as a direct question.”

        He said he suggested interviews with people who were in the streets during the April riots. “They were very interested in identifying some of those folks and they would like to talk to some of them,” he said.

        Tom Jones, head of the Avondale Community Council and a candidate for City Council, was also interviewed Tuesday. He said his impression of the inquiry was that the Justice Department investigators “have run the gamut of people who've been on the other side of the fence,” opposing police, and were now “looking for people who've been working more closely in the community itself.”

        One community leader who hasn't been interviewed by investigators is Mr. Luken.

        “I've had a couple appointments scheduled with them, but they've never kept them,” he said. “They had two meetings set with me. They didn't show up for one and canceled the other.”

        He said he hasn't gotten the impression the Justice Department has found any major failings in the police division.

        “I will be surprised if they issue an extremely harsh critique of our police. That's just a feeling I get,” he said Thursday.

        “They have looked at it and realized what many of us know: that there might be areas where we can improve, but overall our police do a pretty good job. That's the sense I get from our lawyers.”


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