Cincinnati police-community relations national model after tensions, riots

Cincinnati police-community relations national model after tensions, riots
In this 2001 photo, Officer Patrick Caton sits during jury selection in Hamilton County Municipal Court. (Cincinnati Enquirer photo)
In this 2001 photo, Officer Patrick Caton sits during jury selection in Hamilton County Municipal Court. (Cincinnati Enquirer photo)
Timothy Thomas (Provided by the Cincinnati Enquirer)
Timothy Thomas (Provided by the Cincinnati Enquirer)
Roger Owensby Jr. (Provided by Cincinnati Enquirer)
Roger Owensby Jr. (Provided by Cincinnati Enquirer)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati is seen now as a national model for police-community relations, but it wasn't always that way.

Historically, police rarely face criminal charges for use of force.

Before Ray Tensing, only three local ones have been charged since 2001. And Tensing remains the only Tri-State law enforcement officer to be charged with murder due to an on-duty incident, according to the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.

"We know of no other conviction of any on-duty law enforcement officer criminally killing a person," said retired Cincinnati police Lt. Steve Kramer, the museum's director.

Riots broke out in April 2001 after a simmering period of tension between black residents in Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati police erupted into four nights of protests, riots and looting.

At the time, it was the city's worst racial unrest in three decades and the worst nation had seen since the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

They began on April 9, two days after Officer Stephen Roach, 27, shot and killed unarmed and fleeing Timothy Thomas, 19, who was wanted on 14 non-violent misdemeanors, including 12 traffic citations, during the early morning hours of April 7 in a dark alley.

Thomas ran from police after he was spotted by two off-duty officers working outside The Warehouse nightclub on Vine Street.

Twelve officers joined in a foot pursuit.

Roach saw Thomas emerge from behind a building at the end of an alley on Republic Street and told authorities that Thomas was reaching for something in his waistband.

He fired one fatal shot, hitting Thomas in the chest.

Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors, and was acquitted in a bench trial.

He quit the Cincinnati Police Department in 2002 and began working for Evendale police, where he remains employed.

Thomas' family received $1.5 million from the city in a lawsuit settlement.

Leading up to April 2001, 15 black men suspected of crimes were killed by Cincinnati police during confrontations or while in custody since 1995, including four between November 2000 and April 2001, while no white suspects were killed during that period.

Most of the deaths were the result of defensive actions by police and comparable to cities of the same size and below those in St. Louis, Missouri.

But one death in particular sparked tensions: Roger Owensby Jr.

Owensby, 29, died in police custody shortly after his arrest outside a Roselawn gas station the evening of Nov. 7, 2000.

Although there was no warrant for his arrest, he was questioned outside a Roselawn convenience store and initially cooperated with police officers.

Police say Owensby tried to run and was tackled by several Cincinnati police officers. He was struck several times, forced to the ground and handcuffed.

Hamilton County's coroner later determined Owensby died of asphyxiation.

In January 2001, Officers Robert "Blaine" Jorg, 28, and Patrick Caton, 34, were indicted in connection with Owensby's death.

Jorg was charged with misdemeanor assault and involuntary manslaughter. Caton was charged with assaulting Owensby.

Later that year, both men were acquitted on the assault charges.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict in Jorg's involuntary manslaughter charge, resulting in a mistrial.

Then-Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said he would not try Jorg again.

Jorg resigned from Cincinnati police. Caton remains there today and was promoted to lieutenant earlier this year.

Owensby's family received $6.5 million from taxpayers in a wrongful death suit.

Cincinnati's 2001 unrest ended with federal authorities coming to town at then-Mayor Charlie Luken's request.

The Justice Department, Cincinnati police and local civil rights groups signed a Collaborative Agreement that guided change and turned the police department into a model for police-community relations.

Cincinnati police also introduced a protest-management protocol in 2011 that is used by the Justice Department and several cities as the model on how to communicate with protesters and prevent a riot from breaking out.

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