Monday, December 31, 2001

Year in Cincinnati: Riots, trials, national scrutiny

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This would have been a dramatic year for Cincinnati and the Tristate even if the last page of the calendar had been turned on Sept. 10. For the nation, the violence and conflict of 2001 began early in the morning of Sept. 11, when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. By then, in the Tristate, 2001 was already a year no one soon would forget.


        • The faint sounds of division in the community that boiled over into violence in April were heard when a Hamilton County grand jury indicted two white Cincinnati police officers in the death of Roger Owensby Jr., a black man who died in their custody in a gas station parking lot in November 2000.

        • The ordinarily quiet Northern Kentucky bedroom community of Villa Hills was rocked by a political scandal. Mayor Steve Clark angered many residents when he fired two long-time employees — Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown and City Clerk Sue Kramer — for reasons he refused to disclose. The mayor was forced to resign in March; the chief and the clerk were rehired.


        • A bizarre criminal case emerged from, of all places, the Hamilton County coroner's office.

        Photographer Thomas Condon was indicted on 12 counts of abuse of a corpse for taking unauthorized photos of corpses in the morgue, posing them with inanimate objects such as sheet music, an apple and a snail shell. A pathologist at the morgue, Dr. Jonathan Tobias, was indicted along with Mr. Condon for giving the photographer access to the body. They were found guilty in an October trial.


        • On March 14, the Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit accusing the Cincinnati Police Department of a pattern of racial profiling. Two weeks later, Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance outlawing racial profiling by police. Later in the year, the city and the plaintiffs agreed to a collaborative process aimed at avoiding a court case.

        • When the 2000 U.S. Census numbers came out March 16, they confirmed that Cincinnati lost more population than any Ohio city in the 1990s — a 9.1 percent drop to 331,285.

        The flight to the suburbs during the 1990s was tremendous — Butler and Clermont counties grew at double-digit rates, while once-rural Brown County was suddenly the sixth fastest-growing in the state.

        Northern Kentucky, too, shared in the suburban boom — Boone County grew by 49.3 percent in the 1990s.

        • In Butler County, residents learned that a 109-year-old institution in Hamilton, Mercy Hospital, would close, putting 459 people out of work. The hospital, the victim of heavy financial losses, stopped accepting patients in April.


        • The greatest crisis for Cincinnati in generations began on a warm spring night, April 7, when Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach cornered 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was wanted on 14 minor misdemeanor warrants, in an Over-the-Rhine alleyand shot him to death.

Cincinnati's unrest:
A look at a divisive year
        Two days later, frustration over a string of police shootings of young black males over the past several years, boiled over at a City Hall meeting of council's law committee.

        The next day, April 10, peaceful protests turned ugly when gangs of youth began pouring into the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — breaking windows, overturning vendors' carts, and igniting trash fires.

        By the next evening, April 11, the rioting had spread to several other predominantly black neighborhoods.

        The violence increased, despite pleas for calm from Angela Leisure, the mother of Mr. Thomas, and many black community leaders. Mayor Charlie Luken imposed a citywide curfew, which was not lifted until April 16.

        Four days after the riots, a team of Justice Department investigators, invited by Mr. Luken, came to Cincinnati to begin an investigation of Cincinnati police practices.

        By the end of the month, Mr. Luken had appointed a commission — Cincinnati Community Action Now — to come up with possible solutions to the city's racial tensions and police-community relations.


        • Three weeks after the riots, Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey, under fire seemingly from all sides, agreed to quit his job, effective Dec. 1, to avoid being fired by council on the spot.

        • Officer Roach was indicted May 6 on misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and obstructing official business. Many black community leaders argued that Officer Roach should have been charged with felonies. There were peaceful protests on the streets of Over-the-Rhine.

        • On May 9, organizers of the Jammin' on Main music festival in Over-the-Rhine canceled the event, citing poor ticket sales.

        • In the May primary election — and again in November — Butler County voters rejected a five-year, quarter-cent hike in the sales tax for public transportation.


        • On June 27, with one day to go before mayoral candidates had to file petitions, TV anchor Courtis Fuller entered the race for mayor against Mr. Luken.


        • On July 11, Police Chief Thomas Streicher responded to a wave of violence that had run unabated since the April riots with the creation of a violent crimes task force that rounded up dozens of suspects in the weeks to come.

        Tensions heightened again on July 27 when, in Millvale, Cincinnati Police Officer Thomas Haas shot and killed 21-year-old Rickey Moore, a man with severe mental problems. By that time, the wave of violence totaled 12 killed and 82 wounded by gunfire on Cincinnati streets since the April riots.

        • A line of thunderstorms rolled across the Tristate shortly after 9 p.m. July 18, dumping more than 5 inches of rain in areas. By the time the storms passed, three people were dead, hundreds were flooded out of their homes and businesses, and thousands were without power.

        • Lebanon's city manager was one of four people indicted July 27 on felony charges related to early-retirement incentive buyouts that cost the city more than $300,000. James Patrick and retired Deputy Electric Department Director Bob Newton were accused of helping former City Auditor Debbie Biggs and retired City Attorney Bill Duning receive buyouts they were not entitled to.


        • The murder of 8-year-old Takeya Bryant in Northside on Aug. 15 was particularly shocking to people in the region because of who was charged with committing the crime — her 11-year-old brother and a 13-year-old cousin who was babysitting the pair. In October, the 11-year-old was convicted of killing his sister. The cousin faces murder and rape charges.


        • In a 4-3 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court ended a decade-long fight over how Ohio schools are funded by ordering the case closed if the state greatly increases the amount it spends on education. Critics of the decision said the court's solution could cost $400 million to $1.24 billion a year and lead to tax increases or dramatic budget cuts. By the end of the year, the court agreed to reconsider and appointed a mediator.

        • The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 produced the same wave of shock grief and resolve in the Tristate that it did in the rest of the nation. Several Tristate residents were killed in the attacks. On the Friday following the attacks, about 5,000 people gathered in Fountain Square for a prayer service, and thousands came together in schools, churches and places of business for the national day of remembrance.

        • Cincinnatians braced for another round of violent protest on Sept. 26 after Police Officer Stephen Roach was found not guilty in the April shooting of Mr. Thomas. Mayor Luken imposed a curfew after the verdict was announced. Protests were largely peaceful.


        • The Justice Department recommended an overhaul of Cincinnati Police Departmentpractices in a preliminary report.

        • Cincinnati's dreams of hosting the Olympics in 2012 died on Oct. 26 in Salt Lake City, as the U.S. Olympic Committee announced the Queen City was out of the running.

        • On Oct. 30, a jury of 10 whites and two blacks found Officer Robert Jorg not guilty of assault and deadlocked on the charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Mr. Owensby. Three days later, the second officer charged in the Owensby death, Officer Patrick Caton, was found not guilty of assault. In November, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen announced he would not seek a re-trial of Officer Jorg.


        • Cincinnati voters elected Mr. Luken in the first direct election for mayor the city has seen since the 1920s. At the same time, Cincinnati voters passed Issue 5, which allows the city to look outside the ranks of assistant chiefs when choosing a new police or fire chief, and took many of the city's neighborhood services and development officials out of civil service.

        • Voters in Butler and Warren counties turned to some fresh faces, including that of Donald Ryan, who was elected mayor of Hamilton over both incumbent Adolf Olivas and Vice Mayor Tom Nye. Lebanon residents ousted three city council members in favor of a local teacher, a school board member and a retired city electric employee — a power shift that led to Mr. Patrick's resignation. Tax issues drew mixed results, with a sales tax increase for Butler County's bus service narrowly failing, but a $29.9 million bond for the new Monroe school district easily passing.

        • Dozens of Bengals fans ran for cover on Nov. 18 outside Paul Brown Stadium when Darrin Stafford, a 30-year-old paraplegic from Evansville, Ind., drove a car unequipped for his disability through a red light outside the stadium and plowed into the crowd, killing 15-year-old Scott Asbrock, the son of a highway patrolman, and injuring five others.

        • Two days after police raided his Erlanger home and found marijuana and pictures of nude juvenile boys, Larry Eugene Powell was shot in the groin by a 40-year-old Covington woman in a Covington drug store parking lot. The woman said her 13-year-old son had just told her the 40-year-old man had molested him several times.

        • Warren County Judge Neal Bronson threw out a jury's death recommendation for twice-convicted killer Timothy Hancock after discovering that jurors viewed death photos of the victim and other evidence that may have impacted their decision. Mr. Hancock was an inmate at Warren Correctional Institution in November 2000 when he strangled his cellmate, convicted child rapist Jason Wagner. Judge Bronson instead gave Mr. Hancock life in prison without parole, but that sentence is under appeal by prosecutors.


        • Mr. Luken ousted the Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front as one of the leaders of the Cincinnati Community Action Now Commission.

        • Michael Wehrung, a 54-year-old Springfield Township grandfather, was found not guilty of murder in the 1963 beating death of his former girlfriend, Greenhills cheerleader Patricia Ann Rebholz.

        • Any disappointment Cincinnatians felt over being eliminated as a 2012 Olympic contender was tempered Dec. 17 when thousands lined the streets from Mount Healthy to Fountain Square in the wind and rain to watch 111 local torch-bearers pass the Olympic torch on its long road to the winter games in Salt Lake City.

        • A visiting judge found Bill Duning, Lebanon's former city attorney, not guilty of theft in office and unlawful interest in a public contract. He was accused of improperly taking advantage of an early-retirement incentive for electric department employees.

        • Butler County commissioners voted to raise the county sales tax from 5.5 percent to 6 percent for six years beginning March 1, and then drop it to 5.75 percent for four years.


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