Saturday, April 20, 2002

Owensby death to get FBI scrutiny


Officers could face federal charges

By Robert Anglen, ranglen@enquirer.com
Kevin Aldridge, kaldridge@enquirer.com
and Dan Horn, dhorn@enquirer.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The U.S. attorney general has asked the FBI to investigate the death of Roger Owensby Jr., who was asphyxiated Nov. 7, 2000, while in the custody of Cincinnati police.

        The investigation will determine whether the U.S. Department of Justice should seek federal civil rights charges against officers involved.

        “You can be assured that if the evidence shows that there was a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statute, appropriate action will be taken,” Department of Justice Director Lori Sharpe Day said in a letter received Friday by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

        Mr. Portune has been pressing for a federal investigation on behalf of the Owensby family since two of the officers involved were acquitted of state charges last year.

        “There are no words to express how we feel right now,” Roger Owensby Sr. said Friday. “We have been waiting for some justice and now maybe we will get it.”

        Mr. Owensby said his phone has been ringing offthe hook with calls of support and congratulations.

        “There is a lot of stuff that has been said and done that needs to come out in the open and I think now it will be. They (the officers) should never have been found not guilty in the first place,” Mr. Owensby said.

        If the FBI investigation finds evidence of a federal civil rights violation, the U.S. Department of Justice could seek charges against the officers.

        While such prosecutions are rare, they have been used across the country against police officers accused of wrongdoing. One of the best-known was the successful prosecution of Los Angeles police officers involved in the roadside beating of Rodney King.

        Mr. Portune said he finds no joy in the decision but says it proves that local and federal officials are committed to healing the community of its racial tensions.

        “I am happy the attorney general has agreed to make sure there was no police misconduct,” said Mr. Portune's assistant Dave Schaff, who provided the letter. Mr. Schaff is a candidate for state representative.

        Officers Robert Jorg and Patrick Caton were acquitted in state court on misdemeanor charges related to Mr. Owensby's death. Prosecutor Mike Allen, whose office prosecuted the cases, said he was unaware of the FBI investigation.

        “If they decide to do that, it's their call,” he said. “They can do it if they want. It's up to them.”

       



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