Thursday, April 04, 2002

Deals provide 'turning point'




By Kristina Goetz, kgoetz@enquirer.com
and Gregory Korte, gkorte@enquirer.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two landmark settlements could signal sweeping changes in the Cincinnati Police Department — and provide for federal oversight of those reforms — at a cost of as much as $12.5 million over five years.

        The settlements — with the U.S. Justice Department and plaintiffs in a racial profiling lawsuit — came Wednesday after more than 100 hours of intense negotiations over the past two weeks.

KEY POINTS
   • Ends federal mediation, Justice Department investigation.
   • Governs Cincinnati police use of force.
   • Includes a five-year police oversight plan.
   • Creates independent citizen complaint body.
   • Requires appointment of outside monitor.
   • Estimated operating cost: $12.5 million.
WHAT'S NEXT
   • Approval by all parties required by Tuesday.
   • Lack of agreement could lead to federal trial.
   • Monitor must be selected within 150 days.
WHAT IT MEANS
   • Addresses complaints that African-Americans were discriminated against for decades by police.
   • Commits police to working closely with community.
   • Restricts use of police dogs and chemical irritants.
   • Improves investigation of citizen complaints.
   • Settlement is first of its kind in nation.
THE DETAILS
    The proposed settlement related to police conduct spells out conditions for police procedures. It calls for no discrimination, more courtesy and an independent citizens complaint board.
   Here are more details:
   • “The city shall provide police services in a fair and impartial manner without any discrimination on the basis of race, color or ethnicity. The city, in consultation with the parties, shall take appropriate action to track compliance.”
   • It also addresses police conduct.
   “Except in exigent circumstances, when a citizen is stopped or detained and then released as part of an investigation, the officer shall explain to the citizen why he or she is stopped or detained in a professional, courteous manner.
   “An officer must always display his or her badge on request and must never retaliate or express disapproval if a citizen seeks to record an officer's badge number.”
   • The city would also create an independent Citizen Complaint Authority to replace a citizen police review panel and the city's Office of Municipal Investigations.
   “The CCA's mission will be to investigate serious interventions by police officers, including but not limited to shots fired, deaths in custody and major uses of force, and to review and resolve all citizen complaints in a fair and efficient manner,” the document said.
   “It is essential that the CCA uniformly be perceived as fair and impartial, and not a vehicle for any individuals or groups to promote their own agendas.”
INFOGRAPHICS
The litigantsThe playersTimeline of the settlement
        And it came four days before the one-year anniversary of a police shooting that sparked the city's worst riots in three decades.

        Together, the agreements would require police to better track citizen complaints, and force changes in police policies on the use of force, foot pursuits and interaction with the mentally ill.

        And it would overhaul city agencies responsible for providing oversight of the police department, creating a Citizen Complaint Authority to replace two other panels, the Office of Municipal Investigation and Citizens Police Review Panel.

        “It's a very good settlement,” said Mayor Charlie Luken. “It's just what we've all been waiting for. It gets the Fraternal Order of Police on the same page as the Black United Front.

        “It's historic. At the risk of sounding sensational, it's an unprecedented turning point for the city.”

        Still, the Black United Front and other groups supporting a boycott against the city over the treatment of minorities said the settlement and the boycott were separate issues.

        The settlement — and the accompanying Justice Department agreement — specifically did not include any finding that the Cincinnati Police Department discriminated against black suspects, or that there was a pattern or practice of excessive use of force by police.

        The Cincinnati Black United Front was the first lawsuit party to approve the settlements in a vote Wednesday night. City Council is scheduled to vote Friday, the Fraternal Order of Police Saturday, and the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday.

        If those signatures don't come by Tuesday, the lawsuit could head to trial, though all sides said that was unlikely.

        At a 9:30 p.m. news conference Wednesday, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of the Black United Front, said the group unanimously accepted the settlement's conditions.

        “We're looking forward to being part of history here in Cincinnati and moving forward,” the activist pastor said. “We look forward to the other parties signing on to the agreement.”

        Ralph Boyd Jr., assistant U.S. attorney general, commended Cincinnati officials for cooperating with the federal patterns and practices investigation.

        “We believe these settlements developed in conjunction with city officials, community leaders and the men and women of the Cincinnati police division will yield lasting improvements,” Mr. Boyd said.
       

Fees still an issue

        Twelve hours after an early-morning bargaining session yielded a tentative agreement, the city's lawyers released 60 pages of settlement documents to City Council.

        Most of the debate that followed was not about the substance of the agreements, but about the deadlines for signing them and how the plaintiffs' lawyers would be paid.

        The settlement documents don't address the question of the $600,000 in plaintiffs' legal fees — an issue that threatened to be a make-or-break item as the negotiations entered the final hours.

        But the lawyers in the case said they have an informal agreement that no tax dollars will be used to pay the plaintiffs' lawyers. Instead, they will try to raise money from local foundations, which have supported the settlement talks.

        Still, the money remains one of the most volatile political issues left to be resolved. Some council members appear to be willing to vote against the settlement on that issue alone.

        “I have a particular distaste for paying the plaintiffs' attorneys in this case, because at the same time that they were negotiating with us they were also pushing a boycott of the city,” said Councilman Pat DeWine.

        And while the plaintiffs' lawyers denied that their fees could derail an agreement, the city's lawyers said they're feeling pressure to come up with some private money before the ACLU votes on whether to accept the settlement Monday.

        “That is not something that is going to sabotage this,” said ACLU lawyer Scott Greenwood.

        The cost of implementing the agreements could be as much as $2.5 million a year, said Deputy City Manager Tim Riordan. The city's costs in the lawsuit are capped at $1 million, and the police reforms could cost $1.5 million a year.

        That's not counting as much as $7 million for a new computer system to track complaints about police and how officers use their weapons.

        Although those costs will contribute to the city's 2003 budget deficit already at $27 million, Mr. Luken said it's a bargain.

        “If we go to trial next week, the exposure is enormous,” he said. “If the judge certifies it as a class-action lawsuit, it would be impossible to add up all the dollar signs.”

        Police Chief Tom Streicher welcomed both agreements as an opportunity to prove how professional his police officers are.

        “Scrutiny comes with this job,” he said. “We can live with this and we can enforce it. Absolutely.”

        One monitor, who will be chosen within five months of the final agreement, will oversee the changes in both settlements.

        Keith Fangman, FOP vice president, said a lot of officers still question why the city negotiated with groups such as the Black United Front, which are leading the boycott against the city.

        “However, I think the membership realizes that by voting in favor of the agreement,” he said, “it gives us a permanent seat at the table, which is very important when dealing with individuals and groups who are not necessarily supportive of police.”
       

Where city has been

        In the 12 months since the city's worst race riots in 33 years, Cincinnati has been working to make history in improving police-community relations.

[photo] City Council listens to terms of agreement presented by (from left, at table) Pete Halle, deputy city solicitor, attorney Billy Martin and deputy city manager Tim Riordan.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Even before Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer last April — and before days of protests and riots erupted — a group of black activists and the American Civil Liberties Union were already working to fight what they called decades of unchecked discrimination by police.

        Many told of being pulled over, detained, handcuffed and even physically abused, though they said they were doing nothing wrong.

        Civil rights lawyers wanted to turn those cases into a class-action lawsuit against the city.

        The original plaintiff in the case before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott is businessman Bomani Tyehimba, who claims he was ordered out of his van at gunpoint while his 7-year-old watched. That specific claim, and 19 related complaints of specific racial profiling incidents, remain unresolved by the settlement.

        But before much could happen with that lawsuit, the parties agreed to an unprecedented process by which a special mediator gathered community input to provide the foundation of the settlement.

        Despite acclaim for that process, there are still plenty of naysayers — many of whom tie the Black United Front's lawsuit to its boycott of the city.

        “The city's trying to buy peace by signing this agreement with Rev. Lynch,” said former City Councilman Phil Heimlich, who voted against the effort to settle the lawsuit. “He'll just increase his demands.

        “The city is cutting a deal with the person who helped incite the riots. What kind of message does that send?”

        The Rev. Stephen Scott, vice chairman of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, called the settlement “a good first step” toward improving relations in Cincinnati. However, the Rev. Mr. Scott said it will have little impact on the coalition's calls for a boycott.

        “The boycott will continue until all the demands that we have presented are brought to the table,” he said. “What this settlement does, however, is let us know that at least maybe now the city is at a point that it is willing to listen to its constituency.

       Enquirer reporters Jane Prendergast, Robert Anglen and Kevin Aldridge contributed to this report.
       

       



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