Thursday, September 27, 2001

Experts' opinions sealed verdict


Made decision to acquit 'easier'

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Five of the six days of Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach's trial were filled with testimony from citizens, fellow officers and training officials.

        But in the end, after 25 witnesses took the stand, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler gave the most weight to the testimony of two defense experts: an optometrist and a psychologist.

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        “The expert testimony sealed it. It made a difficult decision easier,” the judge said Wednesday in acquitting Officer Roach of negligent homicide and obstructing official business in the shooting death of Timothy Thomas.

        The first expert, Dr. Paul Michel, an optometrist based in Littleton, Colo., discussed the pitfalls of judging police shootings in low light.

        Much of his testimony was meant to dispel the prosecution's contention that Officer Roach didn't follow his training when he fired on Mr. Thomas.

        Officer Roach shot the Evanston man April 7 after Mr. Thomas emerged from a blind corner at the end of a dark alley in Over-the-. Rhine.

        According to testimony, Mr. Thomas' hands were at his waist, a place where a gun can be kept.

        Dr. Michel, who has worked with the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI, said fast movement and low light hamper vision.

        The brain compensates by drawing on an officer's experience and training to create a picture the person recognizes, Dr. Michel said.

        Emotion also can affect vision, he added.

        The shooting occurred at 2 a.m. on a Saturday in a high-crime area known for heavy drug trafficking.

        Though Mr. Thomas did not have a gun, Dr. Michel contended that it was difficult for Officer Roach to distinguish the man's empty hand from a small handgun.

        Officer Roach's training meant that if he perceived his life was in danger, he was to respond with deadly force, the defense maintained.

        Dr. Paul Lewinski, a psychologist from Minnesota State University, testified that Officer Roach was traumatized when he was interviewed by investigators three days after the shooting.

        Prosecutors had argued that Officer Roach gave police differing statements — first that he shot because he thought Mr. Thomas had a gun, then that Mr. Thomas made a quick movement that scared him, and so he shot.

        Dr. Lewinski said Officer Roach was “profoundly” affected by the shooting and was susceptible to “coercive” statements from investigators.

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- Experts' opinions sealed verdict
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