- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach was acquitted yesterday of two misdemeanor charges in the April 7 shooting of a fleeing black suspect.
The death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas triggered three days of racial riots and the imposition of martial law in a section of downtown Cincinnati.
Many in the black community were angry at yesterday's ruling. Several youths reportedly threw rocks at police cars in Over-the-Rhine, the poverty-stricken area that bore the brunt of the street violence in April.
Officer Roach faced nine months in jail on the charges of negligent homicide for shooting Mr. Thomas, along with obstruction of official police business.
Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Ted Winkler, hearing the case without a jury at Officer Roach's request, said in his verdict that "Timothy Thomas put police officer Roach in a situation where he believed he had to shoot or he would be shot. The shooting was a split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas that was a reasonable reaction on the part of police officer Roach."
The judge called the situation a "tragic case," and noted that while Officer Roach's service record was exemplary, Mr. Thomas' history was troubling.
"Police officer Roach's history was unblemished until this incident. Timothy Thomas' history was not unblemished," Judge Winkler said in his decree.
He also noted that testimony accusing Officer Roach of changing his story to investigators an accusation that resulted in the obstruction charge did not affect the probe.
Officer Roach was charged with obstructing official police business for giving three versions of the shooting incident.
He initially told fellow officers immediately after the shooting that his gun "just went off." But several hours later, when being questioned by police investigators, he described the shooting, saying he thought the suspect was reaching for a gun.
When investigators told Officer Roach that his statements differed from the events as captured by police cruiser cameras at the scene, he changed his story to say that Mr. Thomas came around a corner, startling him and causing him to shoot.
On the obstruction charge, Judge Winkler ruled that "any differing statements attributed to Officer Roach were not substantial and the statements did not hamper or impede the police investigation."
Defense attorney Merlyn Shiverdecker said after the trial that his client was in shock when he made his initial statement.
The judge's ruling has upset many in the black community. A group assembled at City Hall following the judge's verdict and then walked into a city council meeting that was in progress. The meeting had to be halted several times when the group shouted down council members.
"The situation is a tinderbox," said the Rev. James W. Jones, one of many clergy members who have led the city's black community in charging that people of color are not treated fairly by police. "We are trying to keep people calm, but we can only do so much."
The riots that swept the city the largest urban disturbance in the United States since the Los Angeles riots of 1992 caused millions of dollars in damage.
After the riots, violent crime rose dramatically. Some accused the Cincinnati police of scaling back law enforcement in black areas of the city. Federal investigators have opened an investigation into the conduct of the police department.
Next month, two more officers will appear in court on charges related to the violence.
"We do not expect any justice from these trials," Mr. Jones said. When asked about the possibility of more social unrest, he said: "Anything is possible."

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