Police Chief Says Officer Mishandled Gun and Made Conflicting Statements
CINCINNATI (AP) - A former Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in an alley last year improperly handled his handgun and gave investigators conflicting statements about what happened, Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. told the City Council on Tuesday.
Officer Stephen Roach, who is white, cannot be disciplined by Cincinnati because he quit the department in January to work in a suburban police force, said Pat DeWine, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
But both mishandling a gun and giving conflicting or misleading statements to investigators violates police regulations, Streicher told the committee.
If Roach still worked for Cincinnati, he could have been fired unless he produced new evidence in his favor at a disciplinary hearing, Streicher told the council committee.
Roach, 27, was acquitted at a trial of criminal charges in the April 7, 2001, shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19.
Streicher's disclosure Tuesday was the first time results of an internal investigation of the Thomas shooting were released to the public. Streicher said the investigation began after Roach's September acquittal in the criminal trial.
Streicher issued a one-page statement that did not mention Roach by name. It said that dishonesty by any member of the Cincinnati Police Department would result in a recommendation for firing.
"Dishonesty tears at the very fabric of our society, erodes the public confidence in our police department and casts a shadow of suspicion upon our individual police officers," Streicher said. "Dishonesty cannot and will not be tolerated in our organization."
The internal police report given to the council said Roach told homicide investigators the day of the shooting that he intentionally shot Thomas because he believed Thomas to be a threat.
Three days later, on April 10, homicide investigators interviewed Roach a second time. During that interview, he said the shooting was an accident, and that he had not intentionally fired, the report said.
Under police regulations, an officer is not to put a finger inside his gun's trigger guard until the officer has taken aim and is ready to "engage a threat." But Roach had to have had his finger on the trigger for the gun to discharge, investigators concluded.
"The circumstances on April 7, 2001, involved a high-risk situation in a threat-filled environment, justifying a high level of preparedness by Officer Roach," Streicher said.
"However, based on Officer Roach's statements and the evidence reviewed, he imprudently handled his firearm and unintentionally discharged his firearm when abruptly confronted by Mr. Thomas," he said.
The shooting of Thomas, who was running from police trying to arrest him for 14 misdemeanor warrants, led to protests, three days of rioting and a federal investigation of Cincinnati police practices.
Roach had been on the Cincinnati police force since 1997. His hiring by Evendale village officials was met with protests and an effort to have the hiring rescinded.
Evendale officials have said that Roach was the best-qualified candidate for the opening on the village police department, and that administrative actions such as hirings are not subject to a referendum by voters.
Roach did not return a telephone message left Tuesday with the police department in suburban Evendale, which hired him in January as a police officer. His attorney, Merlyn Shiverdecker, said he had obtained a copy of the Cincinnati police report and would review it with Roach before deciding whether to publicly comment.
The Rev. Damon Lynch III, a black clergyman who has accused Cincinnati police of using excessive force against black people, listened Tuesday as the police chief presented the report to the City Council.
"It's a travesty of justice," Lynch said.
Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, has a civil lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court against Roach and the city of Cincinnati, demanding unspecified money damages.
Her lawyer, Kenneth Lawson, listened to the police chief's report Tuesday and said it won't affect Leisure's lawsuit.
The police chief said his department will need another month or two to complete its investigation of the November 2000 death of Roger Owensby Jr., 29, another black man who died in an encounter with Cincinnati police. Two white police officers were cleared last fall of criminal charges in the death.
The trials delayed the police internal investigation, Streicher told the council.