Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Witness: Officer used choke on Owensby

Jorg's acts not criminal, lawyer says

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        During the first day of testimony in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Cincinnati Police Officer Robert “Blaine” Jorg, a 19-year-old prosecution witness testified Tuesday that she saw Officer Jorg use a choke hold on Roger Owensby Jr.

        Another prosecution witness, Cincinnati Police Division Sgt. Anthony Carter, testified that division policy outlaws the use of such a maneuver.

        “Use of a choke hold is illegal, improper and unethical,” Sgt. Carter testified Tuesday. “It would be excessive use of force. It is not necessary.”

[photo] Cincinnati Police Officer Robert “Blaine” Jorg with his wife, Kristin, during a break Tuesday in the officer's trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        To bolster their contention that Officer Jorg had his arm around Mr. Owensby's neck during the Nov. 7 confrontation, as Aerial St. Clair of Roselawn testified, prosecutors showed jurors a bloody sleeve cut from the shirt Officer Jorg wore.

        Officer Jorg had the sleeve cut off at the scene and placed it in the trunk of his cruiser because he didn't want to be contaminated, his attorney said.

        Testing determined that along with blood there was fluid from Mr. Owensby's lungs on the sleeve, an indication that he was dying as he struggled with police.

        “Mr. Owensby's struggle on the ground was not a struggle for liberty, but a struggle for his life,” said Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier.

        Mr. Owensby died Nov. 7 in police custody. Officers were attempting to arrest the 29-year-old man after they recognized him as someone who had fled from them weeks earlier.

        He tried to run again Nov. 7, but was caught and had to be wrestled to the ground. Officials said he refused to obey police commands to bring his hands out from under his body.

        Five officers struggled with him as he lay face down on the ground. He was maced and officers were eventually able to handcuff him and place him in the rear of a police cruiser.

[photo] Roger Owensby Sr., father of a suspect who died in police custody, watches the trial Tuesday.
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        Mr. Owensby, who was about 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, was later found unconscious on his stomach in the cruiser. He was pronounced dead at University Hospital. An autopsy determined he died of mechanical asphyxia.

        Officer Jorg's attorney, R. Scott Croswell, told jurors Tuesday in his opening statement that mistakes may have been made by police during the Nov. 7 incident, but none of those mistakes amounted to criminal acts by his client.

        Officer Jorg, he said, only held Mr. Owensby's head in order to “protect him and keep him from flailing away.”

        He said officers had to gain control of Mr. Owensby during the “significant struggle.” Officer Jorg applied a pressure point maneuver that eventually got Mr. Owensby to comply. There was no evidence of injury to Mr. Owensby's neck, he said.

        Once handcuffed, officers got Mr. Owensby on his feet and he walked to a cruiser and got in, Mr. Croswell said.

        He also implied that Officer Patrick Caton, who goes on trial today for allegedly assaulting Mr. Owensby during the arrest, continued to beat Mr. Owensby even after he'd been placed in the back of a police cruiser.

        Roger Owensby Sr., Mr. Owensby's father, testified briefly Tuesday, saying that his son had been an Army cook and served in Bosnia.

        Ms. St. Clair, the last of Tuesday's three prosecution witnesses, said Mr. Owensby's limp body had to be dragged to a nearby cruiser and was then slid, face down, into the rear of the vehicle.

        Using a mannequin to demonstrate, she said Officer Jorg placed a knee on Mr. Owensby's back and with an arm around his neck, pulled Mr. Owensby's body upward in an attempt to get his hands from under his body.

        When officers got off of him she said Mr. Owensby did not move. “I thought he was dead right there,” she said.

        Under questioning from Mr. Croswell, Sgt. Carter, who works in the division's Homicide Unit, said no scuff marks were found on Mr. Owensby's shoes that would have indicated he was dragged.

        The trial continues today in the courtroom of Judge Thomas C. Nurre.

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