Thursday, April 04, 2002

Plaintiffs greet agreement with hope


'As long as it works,' community will benefit

By Robert Anglen, ranglen@cincinnati.com.
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They threatened to sue the city to force widespread police reforms and to end what they described as decades of racial discrimination by Cincinnati officers.

        On Wednesday, after a year of legal battles, black Cincinnatians who shared their police stories to turn one racial profiling lawsuit into a class-action against the city said they got what they wanted.

[photo] Charles Wiley with his daughter Serenity and his wife, Tracey. Mr. Wiley shared his police experience with lawyers aiming for a class-action lawsuit charging racial profiling against Cincinnati police.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        “The whole community will benefit from this,” said College Hill resident Charles Wiley. “As long as it works. As long as it works, I am glad it is over.”

        The agreement reached Wednesday among black activists, the ACLU, city administrators, the police union and the Department of Justice will change the way the city monitors allegations of police misconduct.

        “It will make a better community. It will make police-community relations better in Cincinnati,” Mr. Wiley said. “I really hope this never has to happen again.”

        Mr. Wiley, a long-time police supporter and community activist, shared his story with lawyers aiming for a class-action lawsuit. He told of a 1998 encounter with officers who handcuffed and searched him but never charged him with a crime.

        He said he was sitting in his car after leaving Shaker's bar in College Hill when an officer tapped on his window and ordered him outside. Mr. Wiley said the officer was polite but wanted to search his car because of reports that he was smoking crack.

        Mr. Wiley said that when he objected, the officer threatened to bring in dogs. Mr. Wiley was cuffed while officers repeatedly ran his name through police computers “looking for anything they could find on me.”

        About 30 minutes later, Mr. Wiley said he was released. But he said the cuffs had been on so tight that his hands were injured.

        Mr. Wiley is heartened by the sweeping changes that police officials have agreed to implement as part of the agreement.

        “This makes everybody accountable,” said lawyer Ken Lawson, who represented people such as Mr. Wiley in the mediation. “It requires good faith on all sides. It is on us to do what we can to reduce crime. It's on police not to treat (African-Americans) discourteously.”

        Hundreds of citizens last year shared stories with Mr. Lawson and lawyer Al Gerhardstein of being stopped in their cars, searched at gunpoint and targeted for questioning because they are black.

        “Take the Vinnie Clark case,” Mr. Lawson said. “Police were looking for a person on a felony drug warrant.”

        Instead, just after midnight on Feb. 23, 2001, policed stopped Mr. Clark in Over-the-Rhine.

        The 33-year-old former all-Big 10 player at Ohio State, who played for the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, was handcuffed at gunpoint as he was forced to kneel in the street.

        “This was a very humiliating experience,” Mr. Lawson said.

        Juleana Frierson, chief of staff for the Cincinnati Black United Front, a civil-rights organization that was a party to the mediation effort, said she was very excited by the outcome Wednesday.

        “It will be 180-degrees different in how things operate regarding police,” she said.

        She said one of the most encouraging things is how the police union responded in settlement talks.

        “What they told us is that they are tired of the adversarial relationship,” she said. “We know it is going to take some time.”

       



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