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Cincinnati Policeman Indicted in Riot Case

May 01, 2001  | 

CINCINNATI - A grand jury indicted a white policeman on comparatively minor charges for last month's shooting of an unarmed black man, a prosecutor said on Monday, in a case that has sparked days of rioting by angry blacks.

The nine-member grand jury examining the April 7 shooting death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas indicted Officer Stephen Roach for negligent homicide and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors that together are punishable by up to nine months in jail, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said.

Roach, 27, has been on unpaid leave since chasing Thomas down a dark alley, saying he opened fire when he believed Thomas was reaching for a gun. Thomas was the 15th black crime suspect to be killed by Cincinnati police since 1995, a period during which no white suspects were killed in the city.

'Slap On The Wrist'

Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, called the indictment ``a slap on the wrist.'' ``I feel this is not severe enough for the severe crime of taking a man's life,'' she told reporters at her home. However, Leisure renewed her call for calm.

Allen recited the facts presented to the grand jury by 20 witnesses who said Thomas ignored calls to stop and was holding up his oversized pants with his hands by his waist.

Roach was aware that Thomas was being sought on 14 misdemeanor warrants. Most of the warrants were for traffic infractions and protesters charged that police commonly used traffic stops to harass blacks in this city of 330,000, of which 43 percent are black.

Demonstrators demanded to know details of the shooting and charged that police unfairly targeted blacks in a national issue referred to as ``racial profiling.''

The protests evolved into three days and nights of rioting that resulted in dozens of injuries, hundreds of arrests and scores of looted and burned buildings. Centered in Cincinnati's predominantly black Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, the riots were quelled by a beefed-up police presence enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Promised Reforms

The Justice Department has been investigating other aspects of the rioting such as racially motivated attacks by rioters and a police shooting, using nonlethal bean-bag projectiles, of peaceful demonstrators following Thomas' funeral.

Ironically, the anxiously awaited grand jury report was issued on the same day that the city began implementing a new local racial profiling law that requires police to record the race of every person they stop for questioning.

Police said a few store windows were broken by demonstrators, but no arrests were made overnight and the streets stayed relatively quiet as a thunderstorm moved through the city, police said.

Early Tuesday morning, someone set fire to plywood that police used to board over a window in a little-used police substation. The station was unmanned at the time and minimal damage occurred before the fire was extinguished, police Lt. Ray Ruberg said.

In broadcast interviews Tuesday, Mayor Charles Luken said he is still concerned about keeping order in the streets.

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