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Officer Acquitted in Ohio Shooting

by Associated Press Thursday, Sep. 27, 2001 at 1:33 PM

AP/David Kohl Cincinnati police officer Stephen Roach leaves the courtroom with his wife, Erin, after court was adjourned for the day Friday, Sept. 21 in Cincinnati.

Officer Acquitted in...
roach.jpg, image/jpeg, 256x327


Officer Acquitted in Ohio Shooting

Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) ? A white police officer was acquitted of all charges Wednesday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man that sparked the city's worst racial unrest in three decades.

Officer Stephen Roach had been charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business after he shot Timothy Thomas, 19, in a dark alley early on April 7.

Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler pronounced sentence after hearing the trial without a jury, at Roach's request. The officer did not testify.

``Thomas' actions in running from numerous police and not following police orders ... was unfortunate,'' the judge said. He added that Roach's record was unblemished, while Thomas' was not, and noted that Thomas failed to respond to an order to show his hands.

He concluded that the shooting was ``not a culpable criminal act.''

In three nights of rioting that followed the shooting, dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested before a temporary citywide curfew ended the disturbance.

The city had not seen such racial unrest since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968.

As a precaution, city officials had said additional police would be on duty when the verdict was announced. However, they said they did not expect a repeat of the earlier violence.

Roach was believed to be the first Cincinnati police officer to go to trial on charges of killing a suspect, police officials said.

Roach, 27, a city officer since 1997, had faced up to nine months in jail if convicted of both charges.

Roach still faces departmental administrative proceedings under which he could face penalties including firing, police said.

Thomas had been wanted on 14 warrants, including traffic charges and previously fleeing police. He had run from three other police officers, scaled fences and was in a neighborhood plagued by guns, drug deals and violence, Roach's lawyer said.

Investigators found no weapon on the victim.

Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh said Roach was running down an alley with his finger on the trigger of his 9 mm pistol when he shot Thomas, rather than keeping his finger off the trigger until a threat was perceived, as Cincinnati officers are trained to do.

Other officers who had been chasing Thomas testified they did not draw their weapons or perceive a need to do so, McIntosh said.

Prosecutors also said Roach hindered the investigation by giving differing versions of what had occurred.

The officer initially told investigators that Thomas made a threatening move and he thought Thomas had a gun. Roach later told investigators that Thomas stepped around a corner and startled him, and that he accidentally shot Thomas.

Defense lawyer Merlyn Shiverdecker said Roach was doing his job by trying to catch a man named in arrest warrants.

Shiverdecker said the officer's fear caused him to involuntarily fire his weapon.

He said investigators failed to take into account how the darkness would have affected Roach's perception, or how his instinctive fear could have affected what he recalled when he spoke to police about the shooting.
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