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YOUNGSTOWN Good thing I'm not white, says officer cleared of brutality



Published: Thu, August 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The officer said the press coverage didn't upset him, but it did upset his wife and mother.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Patrolman Michael Walker says it's fortunate a police brutality accusation wasn't made against a young white officer.

"I'm glad it happened to me -- a black officer," Walker said today. "I'm a 15-year veteran and an educator with a military background. I have the life skills and diversity to deal with it."

If a young white officer had been accused of roughing up a 72-year-old black man without provocation, "the [U.S.] State Department would have run with it" and pursued a civil rights case, he said.

He spoke to The Vindicator this morning, a day after the department's internal affairs division cleared the 45-year-old officer of wrongdoing in the event.

His biography: Walker joined the Youngstown Police Department in January 1986. He also spent 22 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve.

Besides his full-time job on the force, he works as a substitute teacher in Youngstown schools. With a degree in fine and performing arts, he teaches pupils ranging from the gifted to the developmentally handicapped.

Walker said he regrets what happened July 13 during the arrest of Mattie Mitchell of Shehy Street on a DUI charge. The officer said he did what was necessary and if the woman's husband, 72-year-old Booker Mitchell, had conducted himself in a proper manner, the confrontation that followed could have been avoided.

Walker charged Booker Mitchell with obstructing official business, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. After he was released from the county jail that same day, his relatives summoned an ambulance.

The relatives said he slipped into a coma the next day and remains hospitalized. The family accused Walker of brutality, contacted the local NAACP chapter and has talked about a lawsuit.

Walker said he wishes Booker Mitchell and his family the best. "I understand that he's still ill. ... I'll feel better if he's up on his feet."

Now that the police department's Internal Affairs Division has concluded that Walker acted professionally and violated no rules, he'd like the matter to be over. He believes if civil litigation takes place, it's motivated, in part, by the Mitchell family's anger at seeing a loved one ill.

"I think they also see dollar signs," Walker told The Vindicator.

Willie Oliver, NAACP president, said his focus has turned from Walker to what happened at the jail. Walker said he and Oliver talked and the NAACP president made inquiries about him, which turned up nothing unfavorable.

Effect on family: Walker said the negative press that followed Booker Mitchell's arrest didn't affect him -- "media exposure is the nature of the beast in this job" -- but it did upset his wife and mother. His wife, after seeing a TV report of the event, woke him from a nap and said she heard on the news that he killed a man.

"I said, 'No, honey, I didn't,' and then explained to her what happened," Walker said. He said his mother was very upset by the way some people likened the matter to well-publicized Los Angeles police brutality cases.

Walker said once he explained to Booker Mitchell at the DUI-accident scene on North Garland Avenue that the car had to be towed, "The focus of his anger shifted from Mattie to me," the officer said. "She was basically just rambling about having insurance."

Walker said he tried to empathize with Booker Mitchell. The older gentleman commanded respect, as do all citizens police serve, but Mitchell's language included name calling and the f-word, the officer said.

"He appeared very irate and could not assimilate why his vehicle was being towed," the officer said. Walker said he stepped away from Mitchell at least twice but then couldn't ignore the man's loud obscenities and insistence on taking the car.

Police Chief Richard Lewis has said Mattie Mitchell's complaint to IAD was thoroughly investigated. The dual investigation included Detective Sgt. Rodway, who said the charges against Booker Mitchell have not been filed and remain in the hands of the city prosecutor.

Mattie Mitchell alleged that Walker attacked her husband without provocation, but eye witnesses dispute her version, said Capt. Martin F. Kane, IAD commander.

The woman was already in Walker's cruiser and had no vantage point from there to see her husband scuffle with Walker, IAD concluded from witness accounts.

"I would like to thank the witnesses who came forward and demanded to give statements," Walker said. "They saw a police officer who had to make an arrest -- not one man jumping on another man under the cloak of authority."

Walker said he was overwhelmed by the support he received the past month from Lewis, friends, family and co-workers. Lewis described Walker as soft-spoken and said the allegation didn't jibe with what he knows firsthand about the officer's overall demeanor.

For those who gave credence to the allegation that he "brutally jumped on the man without provocation," Walker hopes they try and understand a police officer's duties and not be too quick to judge until they have all the facts.

meade@vindy.com




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