Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Owensby death


Nobody cared - except for themselves

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They just didn't care.

After they had struggled with Roger Owensby Jr., after they had sat on him, punched him, maced him, cuffed him - not necessarily in that order - the officers didn't care what happened to their prisoner.

Two or three police officers - the accounts vary - carried the limp, bloodied body of Mr. Owensby to the nearest patrol car, a Golf Manor police cruiser. Mr. Owensby's feet dragged on the ground, according to some accounts. His head slumped forward. The officers shoved and dragged the silent man into the back seat, pushing and pulling his body, head first, and laying him across the back seat. They shut the doors and didn't open any windows.

A few moments later, when an officer asked Officer Patrick Caton what had happened, he answered, “We beat the s--- out of him."

Forgotten prisoner
The manner of Mr. Owensby's death has been revived by the release of two new reports - one an internal police investigation, the other by the Office of Municipal Investigations.

They show that after the struggle, police officers picked up their gear and put their hats back on. They discussed the takedown, almost congratulating themselves. They checked themselves for injuries. They noticed blood on Officer Robert Blaine Jorg's sleeve, a stain from shoulder to wrist. It was Mr. Owensby's blood, they concluded, and they cut the sleeve off.

Finally, Officer Brian Brazile checked on Mr. Owensby, shining a flashlight through a window. “This looks f---ed up,” Officer Brazile said. “Can he breathe? Don't look like he can breathe.” Officer Brazile turned and walked away.

A supervisor arriving several minutes later went to interview Mr. Owensby and discovered him, unbreathing, in the back of the patrol car.

The supervisor called for emergency medical assistance as plastic-gloved officers pulled out the body and tried performing CPR and chest compressions on a handcuffed corpse.It shouldn't be this easy to feel sorry for Mr. Owensby.

Before he was a man left alone, dead or dying, in back of a police cruiser, Mr. Owensby was a 29-year-old divorced father and a suspected drug dealer. Police said that in September 2000, he had warned cronies about an approaching undercover cop.

A deadly struggle
That interference, they said, led to his death two months later. Officer David Hunter recognized Mr. Owensby, and he and Officers Jorg and Caton tried to arrest him. Tape from a nearby video camera shows Mr. Owensby tried to run. Witnesses said he struggled.

But witnesses and fellow arresting officers describe an extreme use of force to subdue the 5-foot-7, 185-pound man.

Police accounts make Mr. Owensby's strength seem superhuman. It took five men, a can of mace and a police baton to stop his struggling. It took Officer Jorg's knees in Mr. Owensby's back to stop his breath, examiners said.

Despite investigative reports released Monday, there are still too many glaring questions about this fateful struggle to conclude whether all this force was necessary.

If Mr. Owensby struggled so mightily, why weren't the officers injured? Could he have been panicking, struggling to breathe as officers piled atop him? Did police assault him after he was cuffed?

The officers did admit to doing nothing to help an injured man. Not one told supervisors of the fight.

Even Officer Jorg, who later quit Cincinnati's and joined Pierce Township's police force, admitted he didn't “give comfort and aid” to Mr. Owensby. “I was taking care of myself,” he told investigators.

E-mail damos@enquirer.com or phone 768-8395



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