Monday, January 21, 2002

Lynch, activists protest Roach hiring

Officer goes on Evendale's payroll today

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dwight Patton stomps his foot on a poster of Stephen Roach and is joined by an unidentified woman in spraying "anti-roach spray" on the poster. Patton is VP of the Cincinnati Black United Front.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        EVENDALE — Hours before Officer Stephen Roach goes on the village police department payroll, Cincinnati activists Sunday rallied and marched to support some residents' objections to his hiring.

        About 150 people, including members of Cincinnati Black United Front, rallied outside the Evendale Municipal Complex and listened to ministers from four Cincinnati churches speak.

        Then the group marched a half-mile up Reading Road and back, chanting “No Roach in Evendale!” Some passerbys honked in return while others yelled out, “Go home!”

        Evendale police assisted by twice halting traffic for the march.

        Officer Roach, the former Cincinnati officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black man sparked the April riots, officially is a village employee today. He begins work Tuesday.

        “We are all part of one community,” the Rev. Damon Lynch III, BUF president, told the mostly African-American crowd, many holding signs saying “No Roach.” “We drove 13 miles north to help. There is injustice in Cincinnati. There is injustice in Evendale.”

        At one point, BUF Vice President Dwight Patton threw a picture of Officer Roach on the ground, sprayed it with water from a plastic bottle labeled “Roach Spray” and stomped on the picture as the crowd roared its approval.

The Rev. Damon Lynch III speaks to the crowd in front of the Evendale Muncipal Building.
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        Some of the protesters said they will return Tuesday at 6 a.m. before Officer Roach arrives for work.

        Officer Roach was acquitted in September of all charges connected with the shooting. He said he feared for his life when he shot the fleeing Timothy Thomas, 19, in an Over-the-Rhine alley April 7.

        Officer Roach could not be reached for comment Sunday.

        Council members in the 3,000-resident village have said they hired Officer Roach because he was the top candidate out of 31 applicants. The upscale village's population is mostly white, but it has a growing number of blacks and other people of color.

        More than 100 residents have signed a petition to hold a Nov. referendum to overturn the hiring, said Dr. Thomas Shockley Jr., a leader of a group of upset Evendale neighbors.

        They object to Officer Roach being hired by a speedy emergency ordinance instead of public hearings. Village officials have said all hires are made using an emergency ordinance.

Protesters listen to Randy Cox (right).
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        Lawrence Hawkins Jr., an attorney and Evendale resident advising the group, said they need about 150 people — 10 percent of the voter turnout in the village's last gubernatorial election — to sign petitions for a November referendum to overturn the council's ordinance hiring Officer Roach.

        Mr. Hawkins said the residents can hold a referendum, according to the village charter, if they get enough signatures to overturn any ordinance council passes.

        He wants at least 300 signatures to give them enough of a cushion and said he filed a letter of intent to hold the referendum Friday with the Evendale Village Clerk. The group must turn the petitions in by Feb. 3, 30 days after the council's Jan. 3 vote to hire Officer Roach.

        Evendale Police Chief Gary Foust said Sunday the village's attorney is investigating whether the residents can hold a referendum.

        The Evendale Police Department does not have a union.

        “We have tried taking this in stride,” Chief Foust said. “The department is very unified in support of Officer Roach.”

        Noting a psychologist who examined Officer Roach has rated him excellent, Chief Foust said he has no doubts about his newest officer.

        But he said he is taking a wait-and-see approach before he decides where to assign Officer Roach, who will undergo field training for at least the next eight weeks with a supervisor.

        Officer Roach had been assigned to Cincinnati's impound lot since the shooting.

        Now, Chief Foust said he is hoping Evendale gives the officer, who had an impeccable record before the shooting, the benefit of the doubt.

        “The community needs to give Stephen Roach a fair and equitable chance,” Chief Foust said. “They need to judge him based on their interaction with him. Given that, I think Stephen Roach will be very successful.”


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