Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Owensby family sues city, police


Federal lawsuit seeks more than $75,000

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The family of Roger Owensby Jr. filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in hopes of getting the justice they say they were denied in Hamilton County's courts.

        The family accused Cincinnati police of violating Mr. Owensby's constitutional rights during an arrest last year that ended with his asphyxiation death.

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        The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, comes less than a week after Hamilton County juries cleared two officers of criminal charges of assault in Mr. Owensby's death.

        One of those officers, Robert Jorg, still faces an involuntary manslaughter charge, because the jury could not agree on a verdict. Prosecutors will decide today whether to drop the charge or seek another trial for Mr. Jorg.

        Mr. Owensby's relatives declined to comment Tuesday, but their attorney said the federal lawsuit is an attempt to “bring justice to the family.”

        “All the Owensbys ever wanted was to see the system work,” said their lawyer, John Helbling. “No one is being held accountable.”

        The lawsuit, which names the city, the police department and officers at the scene of Mr. Owensby's arrest, seeks damages in excess of $75,000. The city's lawyers could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

        The suit was filed almost exactly one year after Mr. Owensby's death last Nov. 7. He died after several police officers tackled him in the parking lot of a Roselawn gas station.

        Police have said Mr. Owensby, 29, was sought for questioning and had fled police on a previous occasion.

        In the lawsuit, his family suggests police did not have a good reason to stop Mr. Owensby. “No legitimate basis existed for the arrest,” the lawsuit states.

        He was stopped, the suit claims, because he resembled a man who “allegedly (told) an alleged drug dealer that police were in the vicinity operating a sting operation.”

        Mr. Owensby was surrounded by police officers in the parking lot and took only a few steps before he was tackled, the lawsuit claims.

        The suit accuses Officer Jorg of “crushing” Mr. Owensby while another officer, Patrick Caton, punched him. Officer Caton was found not guilty of misdemeanor assault last week.

        The suit also claims that at least a half dozen other officers joined in the arrest, repeatedly beating Mr. Owensby.

        Prosecutors have said Mr. Owensby died of asphyxiation, possibly from a choke hold or from officers piling on the suspect.

        Mr. Owensby's family blames his death on “grossly inadequate training” of police, “callous disregard” for citizens' safety and “deliberate indifference” to Mr. Owensby's rights.

        The lawsuit claims the behavior of police in the Owensby case is part of a pattern of police misconduct in Cincinnati.

        The family last week asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the prosecution of Officers Jorg and Caton.

       



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