Thursday, July 04, 2002

Anti-Roach effort fails

Ohio's high court dismisses suit

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EVENDALE — The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed without comment Wednesday a lawsuit filed by a group of Evendale residents to force a referendum on the hiring of controversial police Officer Stephen Roach.

        But neighbors vowed not to give up the fight to remove from their streets the officer who was pivotal in Cincinnati's April 2001 riots. They said they plan to appeal.

        All but one of the justices voted to dismiss the suit. Justice Andrew Douglas, who did not participate, is among top candidates for the job of overseeing reforms to Cincinnati's police department.

        Evendale Mayor Douglas Lohmeier and Officer Roach's attorney hailed the decision.

        “Officer Roach walks around with a smile on his face again,” Mr. Lohmeier said. “His performance has been excellent, and he is a quality of an officer that every community should have.“I would like to believe this would put an end to it.”

        Officer Roach could not be reached for comment Wednesday at Evendale's Reading Road police station and has declined interview requests.

        He quit the Cincinnati Police Department in January to join Evendale. His fatal shooting of a fleeing black man — later found to be unarmed — in Over-the-Rhine sparked the city's worst riots in 30 years.

        Officer Roach was acquitted last fall of criminal charges stemming from the shooting, but his hiring in Evendale sparked much controversy.

        About 200 people who organized as the Concerned Citizens of Evendale protested the hiring and submitted enough signatures for a referendum to be placed on the November ballot.

        But village officials said they were prohibited by law from holding referendums on administrative matters such as hirings. So the residents filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court to force the issue onto the ballot.

        Opponents of the hiring were upset about Wednesday's court action.

        “It casts a cloud to have a dishonest cop patrolling the streets of Evendale,” said Steve Jemison, a Concerned Citizens member.

        The group's attorney, Marc Mezibov, said he will file an appeal next week.

        “We are disappointed the court has left us with no explanation for their decision nor any direction for the future as to how and under what circumstances citizens can make use of the constitutional promise of referendum and petition,” Mr. Mezibov said.

        But some residents outside Evendale's recreation center Wednesday said they were glad the referendum effort appears to be quashed and want the controversy to cease.

        “It's been embarrassing,” Darlene Arlinghaus said. “He was found not guilty and should be given a chance.”

        In March, Cincinnati police released an internal affairs report that found Officer Roach violated police procedures in the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, then gave conflicting statements about how the shooting unfolded.

        After the report's release, Officer Roach was briefly pulled from Evendale's streets and put on desk duty. Evendale officials then gave him until January 2003 to clear his name. If he couldn't, he would be fired.

        But Mr. Lohmeier ordered Officer Roach back on the street May 2 after the officer's attorney, Bill Gustavson, noted during a grievance hearing that the village couldn't remove him from patrols because his job performance had been good.

        Police officials referred questions Wednesday to the village's solicitor, Christian Schaefer.

        “My interpretation of the decision is they did not think, based on the face of the complaint, there was any merit to the lawsuit,” Mr. Schaefer said.


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