Violence follows acquittal of white officer cleared of shooting unarmed black man
Thursday, September 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
CINCINNATI (AP) _ Protesters set fires and pelted cars with rocks and bottles, and the mayor imposed an overnight curfew in response to violence that broke out after a white police officer was cleared of charges that he killed an unarmed black man.
The unrest occurred in the same Cincinnati neighborhood that bore the brunt of three days of rioting triggered when Officer Stephen Roach shot Timothy Thomas on April 7. Police said the Wednesday rioting wasn't nearly as bad as the initial unrest.
Roach, 27, was acquitted by a judge on negligent homicide and obstructing official business charges. About 12 hours later, the violence erupted.
Mayor Charlie Luken was prompted to impose an overnight curfew and issue a state of emergency, said police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd.
Several cars were hit with rocks and bottles about one block from where a vigil was being held for Thomas, 17.
``All the officers in the area are going to helmets and shields,'' said Byrd.
At the vigil site, one photographer suffered minor injuries when he was struck on the foot with a brick. Another photographer who was cut by glass from a broken bottle was taken to a hospital.
At least two news vehicles were damaged by rocks or bottles. One car was set on fire, and there were at least six trash-can fires. One arrest was made, Byrd said.
Police called in backups and put all officers on 12-hour shifts because of the outbreak, but Byrd said most of the violence had subsided by the time the curfew was imposed.
``It's not been anything remotely close to what we had this spring. At this point, we think we can keep it under control.''
Peaceful protests were earlier held outside the courthouse and at City Hall after Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler cleared Roach.
Winkler, who heard the case without a jury at Roach's request, concluded that the shooting was ``not a culpable criminal act'' because the officer had been put into a situation where he believed he had to shoot or be shot.
``Police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dangerous and rapidly evolving,'' Winkler said. ``Such was the case Officer Roach faced here.''
Roach could have been sentenced to nine months in jail if convicted of both charges and still faces possible department discipline. He glanced down while the verdicts were read, and his wife, Erin, sobbed into her hands.
``I would give anything to change the outcome of what happened that night, but unfortunately I can't,'' Roach said outside the courtroom, holding hands with his wife.
The shooting took place in a neighborhood that defense attorneys described as plagued by guns, drug deals and violence. Thomas, who was wanted on 14 warrants, was shot in the chest after running from three other police officers.
Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, said she still didn't believe it was necessary for Roach to shoot her son. She said Roach should have been convicted to send a message to a police department that has been accused of mistreating blacks.
``I wanted my son to be the last (to be shot) _ but he won't be the last,'' Leisure said. ``Until serious changes are made in our police department, this will happen again.''
The shooting was followed by three nights of rioting in which dozens of people were injured and more than 800 arrested. The city had not seen such racial unrest since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968.
Eric Green, 32, a Cincinnati construction worker, said he expected violence might break out in response to the verdict.
``Meet force with force, meet fire with fire. There's nothing else to do to get our message across,'' Green said.
Black activists also expressed disappointment with the verdict.
``It was a travesty ... to let him walk,'' said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, a minister and black leader. ``It set this city 10 steps back. Black life has no value in Cincinnati.''