Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Manager: Let process work

Lemmie promises policy review for handling future cases

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

        Hamilton County sheriff's investigators want to know why Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Ron Twitty's city car was repaired so quickly, in addition to whether he lied to police about how the car was damaged, city officials said Monday.

[photo] Police Chief Tom Streicher with Valerie Lemmie Monday. Behind them is assistant manager Rashad Young.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        City Manager Valerie Lemmie said the sheriff's investigation should be completed as soon as Wednesday.

        No one could say when County Prosecutor Michael K. Allen will decide whether to bring criminal charges. Mr. Allen released a statement Monday saying, “The investigation will end when the investigation ends.”

        For now, Ms. Lemmie said she would ask Police Chief Tom Streicher to “assess whether the progress of the investigation of this case warrants Lt. Col. Twitty's continued placement on paid administrative leave.”

        Ms. Lemmie's comments came in a news conference Monday, her first public appearance since the controversy erupted July 12. Ms. Lemmie had been overseas.

        “We are all aware of the lack of community support for the actions taken,” Ms. Lemmie said. “However, I believe that whenever there are allegations of criminal or policy violations made against a police official, they should be investigated immediately and equitably if we are to maintain the credibility of the department.”

        Ms. Lemmie repeated Chief Streicher's edict of March 19 that any officer found to be dishonest in an investigation would be fired. The chief's directive followed the investigation into Officer Stephen Roach, who gave conflicting statements about why he shot Timothy Thomas in the incident that sparked last year's riots, the chief said.

        Then, addressing criticism — largely from the African-American community — about how the department's highest-ranking black police officer has been treated, the city manager said she would review the city's policies on such cases. They include:

        Under what circumstances officers are placed on paid administrative leave. Unlike a suspension, which is a disciplinary action, administrative leave allows a police officer under investigation to be paid while stripped of his police powers.

        When and how the police chief will call for an outside investigation of a Cincinnati police officer. The Internal Investigations Section usually handles such cases, , but Terry Cosgrove, the city lawyer assigned to advise the police and fire departments, recommended an outside investigation given Col. Twitty's rank. Ms. Lemmie said she agrees with that call, but future decisions should be made by the solicitor.

        How to inform the public of serious allegations against police officers. Many of Col. Twitty's supporters objected to the way Chief Streicher announced the investigation at a news conference. City officials said they were concerned the information would leak out anyway.

        The city manager's position Monday seemed to satisfy Mayor Charlie Luken, who suggested last week that she consider reinstating Col. Twitty if the investigation drags out.

        “To have this situation hanging out there indefinitely is unacceptable,” he said Friday.

        By Monday, Mr. Luken said he was satisfied that the investigation was proceeding “expeditiously and fairly.”

        “I would ask that all of us step back at this point,” he said. “We don't jump to conclusions. We don't convict. We don't resort to inflammatory accusations, and we just give this process a few days to work.”

        After the news conference, Mr. Luken, Ms. Lemmie and Chief Streicher met in the mayor's office. Ms. Lemmie thanked the police chief for his professionalism, and there was no outward sign of discord among them.

        Ms. Lemmie said Chief Streicher did not consult her before placing the assistant chief on paid leave July 12. But she also said she trusted the chief's decision to launch an investigation after evidence seemed to contradict Col. Twitty's report that his city-owned car was damaged outside his Bond Hill home early on July 4.

        The car went to the city's Bates Avenue garage July 5, and was sent to Fuller Ford as a “rush job” the same day, city records show. By the time Chief Streicher learned of the accident from the District 4 commander July 9, repairs to the car were 95 percent complete.

        Ms. Lemmie declined to answer questions about the repairs Monday, saying the city's Fleet Services Division is part of the sheriff's investigation.

        James Schwab, the city's Fleet Services manager, said it's not unusual to rush repairs on a police vehicle. He said his division prides itself on a 96 percent in-service rate for police cars.

        In addition to Col. Twitty's 2001 Ford Taurus, sheriff's deputies have impounded a Crown Victoria, his city replacement car.


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