Thursday, September 27, 2001
Text of Judge Winkler verdict
This is the text of Judge Ralph E. Ted Winkler's verdict Wednesday in Hamilton County Municipal Court:
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, we are reaching the end point of a tragic case. I feel for the Thomas and Roach families. But I can't let sympathy enter in as part of my decision in this case.
I have reviewed all of the evidence, testimony and exhibits, and listened carefully to the excellent closing arguments given by the prosecuting attorney and defense counsel.
Police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dangerous and rapidly evolving. Such was the case that Officer Roach faced here.
The reasonableness of an officer's actions should be judged from the officers on the scene perspective of the factsThis requires careful attention to all of the facts and circumstances of the particular case, including the severity of the crimes at issue (as they are known to the officer); whether the suspect is believed to pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officer; and whether the suspect is actually resisting or evading arrest.
If an officer mistakenly believed that a suspect was likely to fight back, the officer might be justified in using more force than was actually necessary.
In such situations, an officer's actions should not be subjected to 20/20 hindsight or Monday morning quarterbacking.
Given this seven-day trial and numerous hours preparing for this case by the parties and the court, this case essentially boils down to a three-minute chase, with the most important time period lasting less than five seconds in an extremely dark breezeway in Over-the-Rhine, an extremely dangerous section of Cincinnati, especially at night.
Timothy Thomas was not unknown to the Cincinnati police. He had 14 open warrants.
Two of the pending criminal warrants and charges lodged against Timothy Thomas were for running from the police.
On April 7, 2001, at approximately 2 a.m. in the morning, Timothy Thomas ran again, first from Police Officer (David) Damico and Police Officer (Robert) Jones, whom he evaded.
Then he ran from Police Officer (Thaddeus) Steele, who testified that he told Timothy Thomas to halt, and when Thomas continued toward him, Police Officer Steele reached and grasped his gun, at which time Timothy Thomas, totally disregarding Police Officer Steele's command, changed his direction and ran away, and jumped over a high chain link fence.
Private witness Niki Chang then saw Timothy Thomas running, jogging, hopping, skipping and pulling up his pants. She also saw him jump over another high chain link fence.
Timothy Thomas did not stop for any officer that night, including Police Officer Roach, and he failed to show his hands when ordered to do so by Officer Roach in a dark alley.
Instead, he quickly reached in or quickly pulled on his waistband. Police Officer Roach's training took effect and Police Officer Roach fired on Timothy Thomas, killing him.
Timothy Thomas's actions in running from numerous police and not following police orders, including Police Officer Roach's final order to show his hands, was unfortunate.
Police Officer Roach's history was unblemished until this incident. Timothy Thomas's history was not unblemished.
The state must show that Police Officer Roach exhibited a substantial lapse from due care on April 7, 2001. This requires a vital abandonment of required care or a real divergence of appropriate concern.
Timothy Thomas put Police Officer Roach in a situation where he believed he had to shoot Timothy Thomas or he would be shot by Timothy Thomas when Timothy Thomas did not show his hands as ordered.
Instead, he reached quickly for his pants waist and continued toward Police Officer Roach.
The shooting was a split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas that, under all the facts and circumstances heard at trial, was a reasonable reaction on the part of Police Officer Roach to the contact between himself and Timothy Thomas in a dark Cincinnati alley.
The defense's expert testimony on this issue was found compelling by this court.
Based upon all the facts and circumstances heard at trial, the shooting death of Timothy Thomas by Police Officer Roach was not a culpable criminal act on the part of Police Officer Stephen Roach.
The court finds that Police Officer Stephen Roach exhibited no substantial lapse from due care in firing his weapon at Timothy Thomas.
Therefore, I find Stephen D. Roach not guilty of negligent homicide (ORC2903.05(A)) in count one of the indictment. The firing of his weapon was justified under the circumstances.
As to the obstruction of official business charge, any differing statements attributed to Officer Roach were not substantial and the statements did not hamper or impede the police investigation of the incident in a material way.
The court finds that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the statements were made with the purpose to mislead, hamper or impede the performance of the investigating officers.
Police Officer Roach cooperated with law enforcement in this case based upon all the facts and circumstances heard at trial.
The court again finds the defense's expert testimony in this area compelling.
Therefore, I find Stephen D. Roach not guilty of obstructing official business (ORC2921.31(A)) as charged in count two of the indictment.
Police Officer Roach, you have been found not guilty of the charges in this indictment. You are free to go.
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