Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Chief supports officer in shooting

By Jane Prendergast
and Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Homicide investigators should have a better understanding today of why a Cincinnati police officer killed a burglary suspect Sunday in Northside, but Chief Tom Streicher said he has no reason to criticize the officer's actions.

And he doesn't expect that firm opinion to change.

"There isn't any way I could comprehend at all that we could criticize him for anything he did," the chief said Monday in his first public comments about the incident. "I think he did exactly what the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Cincinnati would expect. We're very, very proud of the actions that the officer took."

Streicher met with Officer Michael Schulte at the officer's house Monday, talking with him for about an hour. The chief did not ask him questions about what happened - those details are left, at this point, to detectives working on the case, Streicher said.

Instead, the chief told Schulte about the range of emotions he experienced after he fatally shot a man during a drug investigation in 1980 when he thought the man was going to hurt his partner. He warned him, he said, that it can take awhile to fully recover from the experience. Streicher gave the officer his private phone numbers, he said, wanting him to "have accessibility to me 24 hours a day."

He said Schulte told him "that he made a decision that he was not going to die in that alley way. I didn't ask him what he meant by it. But certainly he thought he was in great peril.''

He said he didn't know how many times Schulte had been hit in the head with his own metal nightstick, nor how many of the officer's six bullets hit the victim, Andre Sherrer.

The 34-year-old was killed at 4:10 a.m. in the corridor between two buildings off Hamilton Avenue. He had been released from prison in July after serving 14 years for aggravated robbery. The officer was responding to a report of a break-in at Legend Sports Wear on Chase Avenue. Schulte saw a man running from the store and chased him.

Even after he shot him several times, Schulte may have scuffled with the suspect, according to a witness. "I heard a lot of screaming and yelling, and banging around. It sounded like people were fighting," said Steve Zieverink, whose bedroom window overlooks the alley. "It definitely did sound like there was a scuffle."

Zieverink, a 26-year-old artist who runs the Unit 2 artists' collective in Camp Washington, said he woke up shortly after 4 a.m. by gunshots. Police said there were at least six shots, but Zieverink said he only remembers three or four.

"I thought they were coming into the apartment, it was so close. The gunshots sounded like cannons."

By the time he got to the window, Zieverink said, Sherrer, was on the ground.

"I saw two officers, and they had their guns pointed down at the suspect, and they had their flashlights on him, too."

"Don't move," the officers shouted, according to Zieverink. "Keep your hands where we can see them. Don't pick up the weapon."

As Zieverink stared out the window, the situation calmed. But soon, the officers realized that the suspect wasn't moving, he said.

"Then I heard things like, `Stay with us, buddy.' They kept screaming it out loud. They were pretty upset that he was dying," Zieverink said. "They were real nervous and scared by the situation. It was really intense."

Paramedics came within minutes. Sherrer was pronounced dead within the hour.

Streicher said Sherrer had a "definite pattern of multiple shots that struck him in the trunk area'' and possibly also was hit in the shoulder.

The investigation also would yield more information about Sherrer, including how much "consideration and planning'' went into his decision to break into a Chase Avenue clothing store, the chief said.

Sherrer wore two sets of clothing, he said. That is something burglars sometimes do to be able to take the top layer off and change their appearance.

As for the Black United Front's questions about whether Schulte should have pursued Sherrer by himself, the chief said the group has a right to express its opinions and is welcome to ask questions.

"The officer has a duty to pursue that person," Streicher said. "It's an active felony in progress. There is a lot to think about in situations like this, and these decisions are being made in a very short period of time. The officer is in constant evaluation of risk to himself."

Lt. Col. Richard Janke said Sunday that what Schulte did was reasonable, but that waiting for backup would have been a reasonable option too.

Policy requires Schulte, 26 and an officer 4 years, to be off work for five working days and two off days. After that, he'll meet with the police psychologist and Streicher, who will decide when he should return to duty.

Schulte asked that he not be transferred out of District 5, where he has spent his entire career.

"He enjoys very much working the Northside area,'' the chief said.

Four District 5 officers attended the Northside Community Council meeting Monday night to answer questions from about 40 residents.

Questioners were generally supportive of police, but several questions were asked about why officers would be alone.

Resident activist Stefanie Sunderland brought in a poster for residents to sign in support of police, and another one for Sherrer's family.

Kevin Aldridge contributed to this report. E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

Related story:
RADEL: Mistakes weren't repeated after fatal shooting
Monday stories:
Police: Fatal shooting 'reasonable'
Officials hurry to expedite details
Text of police, emergency calls
EDITORIAL: Getting the facts out

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