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Officer Acquitted in Case That Sparked Ohio Riot

Chicago IMC: This just in: CINCINNATI (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday acquitted a white Cincinnati police officer of charges related to the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man in April that triggered days of race riots in the city.
Officer Acquitted in Case That Sparked Ohio Riot
By Bob Weston

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday acquitted a white Cincinnati police officer of charges related to the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man in April that triggered days of race riots in the city.

Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Ralph ``Ted'' Winkler, deciding the case without a jury, ruled that Stephen Roach, 27, was justified in the shooting of Timothy Thomas, whom the officer said he chased into a dark alley and shot when Thomas ignored orders to show his hands and appeared to go for a gun.

Roach, who did not testify during a seven-day trial, had been indicted on charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business -- the second charge related to his differing accounts of the shooting -- both misdemeanors that carried a maximum total sentence of nine months in prison.

The shooting sparked initially peaceful protests alleging police were targeting blacks in the southern Ohio city of 331,000, 43 percent of whom are black. Thomas was the 15th black suspect killed by police since 1995, a period in which no white suspects were killed.

But the protests turned into three days and nights of rioting by roving gangs of mostly black youths who beat up motorists, ransacked stores and fought with police.

Dozens were injured and more than 800 people were arrested in the rioting, the most violent in the city since the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which were finally quelled by a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

On Wednesday, beefed-up patrols by the city's 1,020-member police force girded for the possibility of renewed violence.

The U.S. Department of Justice (news - web sites), which began a review of the Cincinnati Police Department's policies and training in the wake of the riots, issued a preliminary statement earlier this week that said it had identified ``areas of concern.''

Roach still faces possible disciplinary action, and Thomas' family have said they expect to file a civil suit against Roach and the city.

THE RULING

The judge said Roach's actions were justified and that he did not suffer a ``lapse in judgement'' in shooting Thomas early on April 7 in the crime-ridden Over-the-Rhine section.

``Timothy Thomas did not stop for any officer that night, including police officer Roach, and he failed to show his hands when ordered to do so by officer Roach in that dark alley.

``Instead, he quickly reached in, or quickly pulled on his waistband. At that time, police officer Roach's training took effect, and police officer Roach fired on Timothy Thomas, killing him,'' Winkler said.

Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh said in his closing argument that an acquittal would send a clear signal that police should shoot first and ask questions later.

But the judge ruled that the shifts in Roach's account were not tantamount to a crime.

According to testimony, Roach told investigators he had ordered Thomas to ``show your hands'' just before he opened fire. In a tape-recorded interview three days after the shooting, Roach said: ``He jerked and I jerked. I was spooked.'' But immediately after the shooting, Roach had told a fellow officer that his gun ``just went off.''

Roach's defense included a psychologist who said the officer was under great stress from the incident and had no clear recollection of what happened other than that he shot Thomas because he thought the suspect had a gun.

During the trial, Roach, a former high school football star, was lauded as a mature, highly motivated officer with a spotless record. Thomas was wanted on 14 minor charges, including running from police.

Angela Leisure, Thomas' mother, has said that even if her son was in the wrong to run from police, Roach had no right to shoot him. Just as she did after the indictment, Leisure appealed for calm to prevail in the community, saying, ''Violence only begets more violence.''
 
 

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