Thursday, September 27, 2001

Acquittals based on self-defense




By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Juries and judges in other high-profile police-shooting cases across the country also have not convicted officers for actions reacting to what they claimed were threatening situations.

        From the fatal beating of a black motorcyclist by white officers in Florida 21 years ago to the 2000 acquittal of four New York City officers who shot an unarmed immigrant, such racially charged cases can be difficult for prosecutors.

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        “Officers of the law must be able to defend themselves in such critical situations,” Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper said Wednesday after Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach's acquittal by a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge.

        Some say police do not get special treatment.

        “Jurors and judges are always going to be circumspect before convicting a police officer of a shooting in which the evidence may show a legitimate self-defense,” said Neal Sonnett, a defense attorney in Miami, Fla., which experienced race riots in the 1980s sparked by police killings of blacks and officers' subsequent acquittals.

        In New York, a jury acquitted officers who fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a native of Guinea who was unarmed. Defense attorneys contended that Mr. Diallo had behaved suspiciously and failed to obey the officers' commands.

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