Cincinnati officer indicted in shooting that sparked unrest
CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- A grand jury in Cincinnati on Monday indicted a city police officer on misdemeanor charges in the killing of an unarmed black man that sparked four days of unrest in April.
Officer Stephen Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business for the April 7 shooting of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said.
The shooting sparked violent protests and vandalism that prompted officials to impose a citywide curfew and a state of emergency.
Both the charges filed against Roach are punishable by a total maximum of 9 months in jail. Allen did not disclose details of the charges, citing grand jury secrecy rules, but urged community leaders to help keep calm in the city following news of the indictments.
"The only thing I can say and I can implore to everyone in our community, is to look at the case, look at the facts when it comes to trial. And I will say, that I think the grand jury made the right call in this case," Allen said.
Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, described her feelings in the wake of the indictment as "borderline rage."
"It was a slap on the wrist," she said. "I don't feel like justice was served. I feel like that was not severe enough for the severity of what he did. He took a life."
Thomas was wanted on 14 misdemeanor counts, mostly traffic violations, when he was shot and killed as he fled police in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
"Some people aren't going to like the fact that the officer got indicted at all," Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken said. "Some are going to think it's not enough. I think all we can do is trust the grand jury process, respect the law and hopefully have calm tonight."
In the hours leading up to the Monday evening announcement, the city braced for the possibility of more violence, but the city's streets remained mostly calm. About 100 protesters gathered at police headquarters for a march, and the crowd remained peaceful.
Thomas was the 15th black crime suspect killed by Cincinnati police since 1995. Several of the men were armed, but three, including Thomas, were not.
Allen said Thomas ignored orders to stop from several officers. Witnesses told police Thomas was wearing oversized pants and had his hands at his waist as he ran, he said.
Allen said the grand jury considered a variety of charges, including aggravated murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, and reckless homicide. In the end, they opted for the least serious charge, which accuses Roach, 27, of displaying a "substantial lapse of due care" in the incident.
Allen said Roach gave differing statements to investigators during the course of the investigation, prompting the charge of obstructing official business.
The grand jury heard from more than 20 witnesses, including Thomas' mother, other police officers on the scene and civilian witnesses, Allen said. They examined photos of the scene, radio traffic from the night of the shooting and taped statements from Roach.
Before Monday's announcement, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he has authorized an investigation into whether the city's police department has shown a pattern of discrimination against minority suspects, as critics have charged.
Justice officials told CNN that the point of the probe is not to prosecute but to correct any problems, and that the department will offer Cincinnati authorities technical assistance during the investigation.
In addition, the FBI is continuing to monitor the local investigation into Thomas' shooting, as well as the police shooting of a young woman with a "bean bag" ammunition after Thomas' funeral. Federal authorities also are investigating reports of racially motivated violence by people involved in the post-shooting disturbances.
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