Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2000
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2000 The Cincinnati Post
Author: Kevin Osborne


Cincinnati officials are formally requesting an independent prosecutor 
investigate whether criminal charges should be filed against police 
officers involved in the arrest of a black man who died in police custody.

City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday to request using an independent prosecutor 
to conduct a grand jury probe into the death of Roger Owensby Jr.

Although Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen has previously said he won't 
appoint an independent prosecutor and will handle the case himself, a City 
Council majority said a change is needed to restore public confidence.

"I do think some independence here is the right way to go," said Mayor 
Charlie Luken.

Many African-American residents have questioned whether Allen's 
investigation would be objective, noting Allen is a former police officer 
and that the police union's president once worked for an Allen political 

Cincinnati police still haven't released details about why Owensby, 29, was 
detained Nov. 7 outside a Roselawn convenience store, or on the 
circumstances leading to his death.

The five officers involved have exercised their constitutional right to 
remain silent.

The county coroner attributed Owensby's death to "mechanical asphyxia," or 

"There's just a basic lack of trust in government at all levels (on this 
investigation)," said Council Member Todd Portune, who supported the 
proposal. "Appointing an independent prosecutor is important as part of the 
element to restore that trust."

But Council Members Pat DeWine, Phil Heimlich, Jim Tarbell and Charlie 
Winburn opposed appointing an independent prosecutor. Generally, they noted 
City Council has no authority over the county prosecutor and shouldn't 
interfere in investigations.

"What's next? Are we going to tell him where to get fingerprints? Are we 
going to tell him which witnesses to interview?," Heimlich said. "If it 
were my son (killed), I would not want a group of elected officials 
interfering in the case."

"We could pass this motion, but it will mean absolutely nothing," Winburn 
said. "This motion is a fake, a fake of justice."

"I think it's important for Mr. Allen to know what the will and intent of 
this council is," replied Council Member Paul Booth.

Police officially have released little information on the case, but 
announced 11 days after the incident that small amounts of marijuana and 
crack cocaine were found near the arrest site.

Several City Council members questioned the police's timing in releasing 
the information.

"I think there is reason to wonder ... why information is coming out in 
that fashion and what the real intent of that information is," Luken said.

"The only thing that matters here is the conduct of our officers, how the 
man died and who is responsible," said City Manager John Shirey. "I see the 
drugs as something of a diversion from the real issue at hand."

Owensby's father, Roger Owensby Sr., was among more than 40 speakers who 
addressed City Council, demanding more information about the incident.

"My main thing is I want an honest evaluation about why my son is dead," 
Owensby said. "My son was not an angel, but he was not a criminal. 
Irregardless, no one deserves to die the way he died."
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