Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Owensby arrest

Surprise: Cops are not guilty

Everything you need to know about the fatal arrest of Roger Owensby two years ago can be summarized in one paragraph buried in two thick reports released Monday:

“Officers, according to the (U.S. Supreme) court, are often called upon to make split-second decisions that could mean the difference between life and death,” says the city's Office of Municipal Investigation. “It is for this reason that police officers are given greater latitude in their decision to use force as a method to control a dangerous situation. While an ordinary citizen may run away from danger, a police officer must face it. — This is a difficult job, which many people will admit that they could not do.”

They don't get it
That's pretty clear. But for two years we have been told that Mr. Owensby was “murdered” by cops who killed him with a “choke hold.”

It's not true. The OMI report says he was not choked. His death was an accident.

The cops should have reported using force. They should have helped Mr. Owensby instead of tossing him in a patrol car.

But they did not choke him. He was probably killed by pressure from a knee in his back as he resisted arrest.

Anyone who has watched Cops on TV has seen that on every episode. It's not pretty. But if you want “Please” and “May I,” don't call 911 the next time someone is raped, mugged or shot. Call a social worker. Call a “monitor.” Call a conflict-resolution facilitator.

That's the problem. People like me who could never do a cop's job get to stand back and watch while they run into danger - then second-guess them.

This time, the second guesses were all wrong.

Critics said the police couldn't investigate themselves. But the Cincinnati Police Internal Investigations report was tougher than the civilian OMI report. It said Officer Patrick Caton used excessive force. OMI said that was not sustained.

Don't resist arrest
The cop bashers said Mr. Owensby was being harassed or “profiled.” Wrong again. Both reports said he was wanted for assaulting an officer. He would be alive now if he had not resisted arrest again.

The cop critics made a big deal of Officer Caton's profanity during and after the struggle. But the reports say Mr. Owensby also cursed the cops. That's what happens in violent fights while cops wrestle with a suspect who could grab one of their guns.

The officers were found not guilty of assault in court, but the blame-the-cops crowd insists a new trial is needed. The reports offer no evidence for that. On the contrary. The headline from the OMI report could be: “Cops not guilty in suspect's death.”

But you'd never know it from the way Cincinnati's political leaders reacted.

Instead of taking this rare opportunity to support the police and say they made some mistakes, but they were doing a tough, thankless job, city officials blamed the cops again.

As the Supreme Court says, being a cop is a difficult job. In Cincinnati, it's downright demoralizing.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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