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Slain man's mother sues Cincinnati

Death part of a pattern of civil rights abuses, suit says

Timothy Thomas  

CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- A civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the survivors of Timothy Thomas charges that the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, bears the responsibility for Thomas' shooting death last month by a police officer.

Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old African-American, was shot while fleeing police by a white officer, who has been charged with a pair of misdemeanors connected with the shooting.

Ken Lawson, the attorney for Angela Leisure, Thomas' mother, told The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper that his client filed the lawsuit on Wednesday after a grand jury did not return felony indictments against Officer Stephen Roach.

CNN's Bob Franken reports on the aftermath of the grand jury indictment of a Cincinnati police officer in the shooting death of a young black man

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In a news conference, Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen announces the indictment (May 7)

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The suit, which cites both the city and Roach as defendants, claims that Thomas' death was indicative of a pattern of civil rights abuses by Cincinnati police. The city has failed to remedy the situation, the suit says, and has not provided adequate training and discipline.

Since 1995, 15 African-American men have been killed by police in Cincinnati.

Police union president Ken Fangman, however, said that most of those 15 had threatened officers. But the lawsuit contends that officers "have lied about their actions in fatal shootings to justify a claim of self-defense."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court and seeks unspecified damages.

'Slap on the wrist'

Roach, a four-year veteran, shot Thomas on April 7 while trying to arrest him on misdemeanor warrants, most of them traffic violations. The officer pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business, and is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on May 24.

Three nights of violent protests followed the shooting, prompting Mayor Charles Luken to impose a curfew that eventually calmed the city. Dozens of people were injured, however, and more than 800 were arrested.

Leisure said Tuesday she was angered by the grand jury indictments.

"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."

In a 7-2 vote, the Cincinnati City Council urged that city solicitor Fay Dupuis appoint a special prosecutor in the case against Roach. Dupuis said she would comply.

'Calls threaten police'

Meanwhile, organizers of the annual "Jammin' on Main" festival, scheduled for this weekend near the neighborhood where Thomas was killed, canceled the event.

Some city council members objected to the cancellation, but neighborhood advocates were pleased with the decision.

"I don't think Cincinnati is in the mood to be jamming," said the Rev. Damon Lynch II, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church.

Activists also told the city council that they were considering a protest to disrupt a memorial parade for slain police officers scheduled for May 18. Police officials said they hoped such a protest would not happen.

Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher said the department had received several threatening calls since the fatal shooting, including one that threatened to kill "one police officer every month until there is justice."

Streicher said he has stressed safety to his officers and put the department on heightened alert.

• Cincinnati Police Department
• U.S. Department of Justice
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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