Saturday, July 20, 2002

Mayor suggests Twitty return

Final verdict on reinstatement is city manager's

By Gregory Korte and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, already “embarrassed” by how the city has handled the investigation of an assistant police chief, said he will ask the city manager to consider giving back Lt. Col. Ron Twitty's badge and gun.

        “We do need to have a conversation about whether Ron Twitty should go back to work, and if so, when and for how long,” Mr. Luken said Friday, one week after Police Chief Tom Streicher placed the assistant chief on administrative leave amid an investigation into damage to Lt. Col. Twitty's city car.

        “I don't know how long the investigation is going to go. To have this situation hanging out there indefinitely is unacceptable,” the mayor said. “We have to ask the question: What harm is really done if Lt. Col. Twitty has his police powers reinstated?”

        Chief Streicher could not be reached for comment Friday.

        The chief placed Lt. Col. Twitty, a 29-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department and its highest-ranking black officer, on administrative leave — with pay — while the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigates damage to his city-issued 2001 Ford Taurus.

Lt. Col. Twitty
Lt. Col. Twitty
        Lt. Col. Twitty filed a police report July 4 saying the damage happened while the car was parked outside his home, but investigators found no debris or other evidence to support that account.

        The investigation prompted protests by some African-American groups and caused the National Urban League to cancel its 2003 annual convention here.

        City Manager Valerie Lemmie was returning from a conference in Switzerland on Friday and could not be reached for comment, but Assistant City Manager Rashad Young said Ms. Lemmie would speak to the mayor this weekend.

        “It's a conversation we're willing to have,” Mr. Young said. Still, he emphasized that any decision would be made only after consulting with Chief Streicher.

        While the “stronger mayor” system of government that took effect with last year's election gives the mayor more influence over the city manager, it is Ms. Lemmie who is ultimately responsible for personnel decisions. To date, Ms. Lemmie has said only that she trusted the police chief to make the right decision. “It's within his duties as a police chief,” she told The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday from Switzerland.

        To Sharon Zealey, Lt. Col. Twitty's lawyer, that conversation can't happen soon enough. “Most airline flights have those phones on board now,” she noted.

        “Is anyone else bothered by the fact that a man's career — the only career he's ever had — is hanging in the balance while people are sitting in their offices looking at these accident photos, scratching their heads and speculating what happened?” Ms. Zealey said.

        “You're never going to answer every single question in any investigation. You should resolve those questions in a person's favor if he has a 29-year record of otherwise unblemished integrity,” she said.

        Mr. Luken's statements appeared to take even Lt. Col. Twitty's most passionate supporters by surprise.

        “It sounds like a very positive move. It shows that there are some people willing to attempt to right the disrespect that was shown to Col. Twitty,” said Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association, a group of African-American police officers.

        But Fraternal Order of Police President Roger Webster said the mayor should “stay the hell out of it.”

        “This flies in the face of all the cops on the street. If they're going to do this for the African-American assistant chief, then you need to do it for Victor Spellen, Robert Kidd and Robert Johnson, the African-American officers in the same situation. Or else the assistant chief is being treated differently. I mean, this is crazy,” Mr. Webster said.

        Officers Spellen, Kidd and Johnson have all been stripped of their police powers while being investigated — Mr. Spellen for allegedly lying about Officer Robert “Blaine” Jorg's role in the death of Roger Owensby, and officers Kidd and Johnson on allegations they had sex with a woman while on duty.

        Lt. Col. Twitty is “already being treated differently,” Mr. Webster said. “He's not on desk duty. He's getting paid, but he's not working.”

Related stories:
Chronology of the Twitty case


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