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Cincinnati cop is acquitted, but he shouldn't get job back



Published: Sat, September 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last spring, Cincinnati was a city in turmoil. A young, unarmed black man had been shot and killed during a police pursuit. The man, Timothy Thomas, had a history of minor scrapes with the law, and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest on misdemeanor charges.

Those who chose to blame Thomas for his own death pointed to the number of charges he had faced in the past as a partial justification for his shooting -- 14 charges. Critics of the police department pointed to a similar number -- 15 black persons slain by Cincinnati police since 1995. During that period, no whites were killed by police.

Justice probe: While some of those cases were clearly justifiable homicides, the pattern was strong enough to raise questions that are being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department regarding Cincinnati's police department.

In the Thomas case, Stephen Roach, a four-year member of the department, was acquitted this week on the two misdemeanor counts he faced -- negligent homicide for the shooting and obstruction of official business for giving investigators contradictory descriptions of what led to the shooting.

Let's assume that the judge hearing the case against Roach reached the correct verdict, based on his finding that Roach fired because he felt his own life was in danger and that he gave conflicting statements because he was in shock afterward.

The city of Cincinnati must learn to live with that decision. But should it have to learn to live with Stephen Roach's returning to patrol as a member of the city's police force? We don't think so.

Mistakes were made: By the evidence submitted by Roach's own attorneys in his defense -- he didn't testify -- Roach misread the situation the night he shot Timothy Thomas: his life wasn't in jeopardy. At least three other officers were involved in chasing Thomas, yet none of them even unholstered his weapon. And finally, whatever the reason, Roach couldn't give investigators a straight answer when they asked what happened.

A judge has determined that his actions weren't criminal, but that doesn't mean he's fit to patrol the streets of Cincinnati or that he has the right to do so. He should find another line of work.

It would be best for him and for the city.




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