Friday, July 19, 2002

Twitty awaits apology from city


Damage to car a mystery, he insists

By Jane Prendergast, jprendergast@enquirer.com,
Gregory Korte, gkorte@enquirer.com
and Robert Anglen, ranglen@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The high-ranking Cincinnati Police official suspended over questions about a damaged city car said Thursday he has no idea how his vehicle was wrecked overnight July 3 and was not given the chance to explain before being stripped of his badge and gun.

        Lt. Col. Ron Twitty said he wants to go back to work and he expects an apology.

        In his first extensive comments on the incident that inflamed racial tension again in Cincinnati and led to the cancellation of the National Urban League's 2003 convention here, the assistant chief and his attorney responded to rumors that he had been drinking that night by saying “sobriety is a non-issue” in the case.

        And they questioned why investigators haven't focused more on the possibility the damage found on Col. Twitty's Ford Taurus July 4 was caused by vandals.

Lt. Col. Twitty
Lt. Col. Twitty
        It's “ridiculous,” said Sharon Zealey, a former U.S. attorney, that the central issue is lack of debris at the Bond Hill scene, and proves nothing. Further, failure to report the wreck to Police Chief Tom Streicher is neither a crime nor proof of one, she said.

        Col. Twitty's career has been damaged, the statement said, “based on the flimsiest of inferences.”

        “First, and always, all praises to the Father,” said Col. Twitty, a 29-year police veteran. “I deeply appreciate the prayers and support of so many members of my family, my church family, my police supporters, friends and agencies and groups like the Community Action Agency, NAACP and Urban League.

        “I have placed these troubles in God's hands.”

        Col. Twitty, 51, one of four assistant chiefs, was suspended and lost his police powers July 12, three days after Chief Streicher learned that he had reported his gray 2001 Taurus damaged early July 4. The chief learned about the wreck from others in the department who thought the assistant chief's claim of a hit-skip accident did not jibe with the lack of evidence in front of his house in Bond Hill. He had said the car must have been hit while parked.

        Chief Streicher said dishonesty was at the heart of the issue.

        He and other police officials have declined to comment since, as have Hamilton County Sheriff's Department officials conducting the investigation into the accident.

        Photos of the car show the headlight intact but a large hole torn in the left-front bumper. Records estimated the repair costs at $3,337, given the city's discount.

        Accident reconstruction expert Jeff Krummen of MV Engineering in Cincinnati said Thursday the damage to the car is conflicting. The damage to the front bumper appears consistent with a car hitting a concrete barrier, but a flat right tire indicates the car was not moved.

        “The tire itself seems to suggest the car was stationary. The damage seems to indicate the car was moving,” Mr. Krummen told the Enquirer after reviewing the police report and photos of the car. “The tire could have been deflated later.“

        Mr. Krummen has testified as an expert witness in motor vehicle cases for three years.

        He said a more conclusive analysis would require reviewing the car and the accident scene. But he downplays the importance of the lack of debris at the accident scene, which police officials cite as an important factor in questioning Col. Twitty's story.

        “The fact that there is no debris at the scene doesn't matter one way or another,” Mr. Krummen said. “The damage appears to me as if something snagged the front bumper and caused a hole.”

        Repairs had already been started on the Taurus when Chief Streicher tracked it down at Fuller Ford on July 9. The chief began an investigation, but turned the case over a week ago today to the sheriff's office because he said he did not want any appearance of a conflict of interest. Any decision on possible criminal charges will be made by Sheriff Si Leis and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.

        The suspension and the public way in which it was announced rankled many people who support Col. Twitty, the first African-American assistant chief and a man Sentinels President Scotty Johnson called “one of the most honest men on the planet.”

        The suspension has been the main topic on talk stations for days, with callers asking why Col. Twitty was suspended when other high-ranking officers in discipline cases have not been, and questioning whether Chief Streicher should keep his job. Supporters also want to know why Col. Twitty was suspended for an accident that caused only property damage when other officers accused of unjustifiably killing suspects have remained on the job.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said he hoped Col. Twitty “will be back working for Cincinnatians in a few days.”

        Rashad Young, the assistant city manager in charge of the city while City Manager Valerie Lemmie is at a conference in Switzerland, declined to respond point-by-point to Col. Twitty's statement.

        “We want to let the investigation take its course and we hope it's concluded quickly so we can move forward,” he said.

        Ms. Zealey also addressed several other issues:

        Where her client was the night of July 3: “There have been many innuendos about Lt. Col. Twitty's activities the night before the damage was discovered. That night, he was with numerous friends who are also employed with the Cincinnati Police Division.”

        Whether someone else could've driven the car while Col. Twitty slept: “That's just pure speculation. He had the keys to the vehicle.”

        On his meeting with Chief Streicher a week ago: “He was not asked for any additional information whatsoever regarding the accident regarding his suspension.”

        Why Col. Twitty's next city car, a Ford Crown Victoria, also was impounded: “I have no idea. That is the biggest head-scratcher.”

        “Justice demands and we fully expect that when the investigation is closed, that Lt. Col. Twitty will be publicly exonerated, with an apology, and that he will be promptly returned to duty,” Ms. Zealey said.

       



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