Thursday, September 20, 2001

Two interviews, two versions examined in court

Officer first said he thought Thomas was armed

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Three days after telling homicide detectives that he thought Timothy Thomas had a weapon, Stephen Roach changed his story, saying he shot Mr. Thomas because he was frightened by a “quick movement” Mr. Thomas made.

[photo] Stephen Roach (right) listens as defense attorney Merlyn Shiverdecker questions homicide investigator Charles Beaver on Wednesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “I screamed: "Let me see your hands,'” the Cincinnati police officer told detectives April 10. “He very quickly removed his hands from his pants. ... They came up from his waistband and as his hands came up. ... It spooked me and I pulled the trigger.”

        “I jerked when he jerked,” Officer Roach added. “The jerk he made scared ... me.”

        Defense attorney Merlyn Shiverdecker contended that investigators coaxed Officer Roach into making the second statement by bringing up the cases of other officers who'd been indicted for killing a suspect.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        They took advantage of his client's “fragile psychological state,” Mr. Shiverdecker argued Wednesday during Mr. Roach's trial in Hamilton County Municipal Court.

        Officer Roach is accused of negligent homicide and obstruction of official business, both misdemeanors, in the April 7 shooting death of Mr. Thomas. The obstruction charge involves changing his story.

        Mr. Thomas, 19, of Evanston, was wanted on 14 misdemeanor charges and had led police on a foot chase through Over-the-Rhine. He tried to evade arrest by going through a darkened alley near 13th and Republic streets but was shot by Officer Roach when the two met in the alley. He was not armed.

        Prosecutors contend Officer Roach ignored his training when he shot Mr. Thomas, and tried to justify the shooting by lying about what happened.

        Mr. Shiverdecker counters that his client did not lie about what happened. The emotional trauma Officer Roach suffered because of the shooting affected his memory, he said. And, the attorney argued, he fired on Mr. Thomas because he perceived that his life was in danger.

        For six hours Wednesday, Cincinnati Police Spc. Charlie Beaver testified about his interviews with Officer Roach.

        He said Officer Roach's first statement five hours after the April 7 shooting was unusual because of its detail and specificity.

        Spc. Beaver said the statement seemed rehearsed.

        A tape of the interview was played in court. Officer Roach says he was reaching for his flashlight but reached instead for his gun when Mr. Thomas came around a corner of the alley.

        He said Mr. Thomas had his left hand on his waistband and his right inside his pants. He said Mr. Thomas reached deeper into his pants with his right hand and when his hand came up out of his pants, he took at least two steps forward. Mr. Thomas' fist was clenched and it appeared he had something dark in his hand that Officer Roach said he thought was a gun.

        He said his training just took over and he fired his weapon.

        The evidence, Spc. Beaver testified, differed greatly from Officer Roach's first statement — so much so that it changed “the entire context” of the incident, he said.

        In the second statement, Spc. Beaver tells Officer Roach that he believes the shooting was accidental and that he doesn't want to see Officer Roach get himself “jammed up like a few other coppers are. ... Even if they are acquitted their jobs are probably gone.”

        Also testifying Wednesday was Roger Smallwood, a Cincinnati police technician who oversaw some of Officer Roach's weapons training while he was a cadet and after he became a sworn officer.

        “Steve was one of the better ones in his class,” he said, adding that officers use a firearms simulator that sets up scenerios in which an officer has to decide when to shoot and when not to shoot.

        “He did very well. He was excellent,” Mr. Smallwood testified.

        But under questioning by Mr. Shiverdecker, he acknowledged that the simulator is a controlled environment and that an officer's hesitation would not result in his own death or injury.

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