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Probe into arrest continues



Published: Thu, July 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- City police and the local chapter of the NAACP are continuing to investigate the arrest of Booker Mitchell, 72, of Shehy Street.

Mitchell was in critical condition this morning in Forum Health Northside Medical Center. He has been in a coma since his arrest July 13.

Officer Michael Walker arrested Mitchell on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing official business and resisting arrest.

Police reports say that Mitchell argued with Walker that afternoon about having a car towed after an accident in a parking lot on North Garland Avenue.

Mitchell's relatives say Walker, without provocation, beat Mitchell during the arrest. Walker said he used pepper spray before placing handcuffs on Mitchell.

Both Mitchell and Walker are black.

Ongoing investigation: Police Chief Richard Lewis said his department's investigation of the arrest will be completed shortly. Walker remains on duty.

Willie Oliver, president of the local NAACP, said he interviewed witnesses this week and has asked the Mahoning County Prosecutor's Office for the records of Mitchell's stay in the county jail.

An investigation by the sheriff's department recently concluded that the jail staff acted correctly in their treatment of Mitchell.

Oliver said he has been given conflicting reports about the arrest and Mitchell's stay in the jail. One witness told The Vindicator that Walker picked up Mitchell by his collar, "like you pick up a cat or a dog."

"It's a lot of gray areas I'm looking at," Oliver said, adding that he's trying to determine, "just when did [Walker] do what he did and why did he do it?"

From police reports: Police reports say that Mitchell repeatedly swore at Walker, who then placed a "firm hand" on Mitchell and told him he was under arrest.

Mitchell & quot;lashed back, & quot; the reports say, and a struggle ensued. Both men fell to the ground.

Mitchell was pepper-sprayed, handcuffed and taken to jail.

Relatives said Mitchell couldn't walk when he was released from jail later that evening and that he was carried into the jail lobby by two sheriff's deputies. They said jail staff wouldn't call an ambulance.

Sheriff's Maj. Michael Budd said that Mitchell told Deputy Matthew Reesch that he felt light-headed when he was released from the jail.

Asked for 911: The family asked Reesch to call 911 for an ambulance. Budd said Reesch called for his supervisor, Cpl. Ronald Denson, who brought along a nurse. They arrived within 20 to 30 seconds, Budd said.

The family, by this time, was calling 911 on a pay phone, the major said.

"We basically found no wrongdoing among our people," Budd said. "Unfortunately, [the family] disagrees with us."

Dennise Pennington, Mitchell's stepdaughter, said Mitchell suffered a stroke the morning after the arrest and doctors had to perform emergency surgery to stop the bleeding around his brain.

Those doctors have been too busy caring for Mitchell to determine if the stroke could be linked to the confrontation with the police officer, Pennington said.

hill@vindy.com




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