Sunday, June 1, 1997
Shoot first, ask questions later

BY PETER BRONSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Collins
Lorenzo Collins
You might call these "vital statistics."

Average time it takes for a death-row inmate to exhaust his appeals in Ohio: 14 years.

Time elapsed between the police order to "Drop the brick" and the shots that killed Lorenzo Collins: 60 seconds.

I suppose there's a lesson in there. Go peacefully. Say "Yes, sir!" Put on the chrome bracelets. Get a public defender. Never wave a brick at a Cincinnati cop. And whatever you do, stay sane. Because if you slip into the nightmare dimension of mental illness where babbling voices in your head tell you to walk out of the hospital, run from police, pick up a brick and beg the cops to kill you, they just might oblige.

More statistics:

Number of times Lorenzo Collins walked off AWOL from the lockdown psychiatric unit at University Hospital: 3.

Number of excessive-force incidents in the file of Cincinnati Police Officer Douglas Depodesta: 3. That includes the restraint-asphyxiation death in custody of Darryll C. Price on April 4, 1996, and the Feb. 23 shooting of Lorenzo Collins.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, who has ruled that the Collins shooting was not criminal, partially blamed the hospital. "They're making money treating these people. At some point, they've got to have the safety of the community in mind."

Sam Moore of the Urban League called that a "head fake." He asked, "What difference does it make what the hospital does to protect people inside? Does that mean when they get out the police can kill 'em?"

Officer Depodesta was exonerated on his previous excessive force incidents, plus seven uses of chemical irritant on suspects in his three years on the street. He was not the only shooter. University of Cincinnati Officer John Engel also shot Mr. Collins.

Cincinnati Police Spokesman Lt. Tim Schoch explained: "You have to be in that person's shoes to know what they felt, and what the threat level was. I've had my weapon out hundreds of times and I've never had to shoot someone, thank God. But I could have shot in a lot of cases and the shooting would have been justified."

As for Officer Depodesta's record, he replied: "Sometimes it depends where you work. At some firehouses, they don't go to a fire an entire year. At some you go every day."

More numbers:

Cops who were on the scene when Lorenzo Collins was shot: 15. Black leaders attending a press conference Thursday to lead demonstrations that civil rights leader the Rev. Fred W. Shuttlesworth called "a spiritual battle" for justice: 12.

That's enough for a jury to find Cincinnati guilty of doing "absolutely nothing to address the climate of fear, oppression, abuse and mistreatment of citizens, by some few Cincinnati Police officers in the black and poor communities."

"I'll be frank with you," the Rev. Shuttlesworth said. "There are people in this community who don't give a tinker's darn if this town burns up." He urged "everyone who joins our demonstrations to be nonviolent," then added later, "But we can't go on like this forever."

Emotions are running high. The Rev. James W. Jones said patience is on empty. "They let us blow off steam and then it's back to business as usual. This time the black community should shut this town down. Hell, it's time we stopped playing games."

This case makes people crazy. Some look at one mental patient in pajamas, holding a brick, surrounded by 15 cops, and call it a "justified shooting." Others make foreboding comments about retribution and riots.

Number of police interviews to prepare a preliminary report: 121.

Number of city apologies to the mother of Lorenzo Collins: 0. Maybe that explains why she now has a lawyer, Ken Lawson, who is suing the city and UC for $10 million. Maybe she would have done that even if the city had treated her with compassion and respect. It's too late for her and Lorenzo, but it's not too late for the rest of us to head off a confrontation we may regret.

Lorenzo Collins was a very large, violent psychotic, with a history of crime, assault and drug abuse. I would not want to be one of the cops who watched him shake off five chemical sprays as if they were squirt guns.

But neither would I want to be Lorenzo Collins - given just 60 seconds to make a fatal decision to "Drop the brick" when his mind was tangled and confused, cornered by shouting cops.

This is a good cop - bad cop story. The Cincinnati cops I've met are courteous, courageous professionals. But I'm white. And maybe I don't see what the Rev. Shuttlesworth called "the 1 percent" who taunt and bully minorities and get away with it because Cincinnati loves its law and order.

The cops who shot Lorenzo Collins may be good cops who made one bad mistake. But an error like this is not reversible. They should find new careers - to hang onto their own sanity, and for the safety of others who can't.

Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. Call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

BRONSON ARCHIVE

Previous stories

COLLINS PROTESTS CONTINUE May 31, 1997
RADIO LINKS ERRATIC IN COLLINS CHASE May 30, 1997
POLICY ON POLICE HOLDS UNCLEAR May 30, 1997
POLICE SUMMARY OF ITS INVESTIGATION May 29, 1997
DIAGRAM OF THE SHOOTING SCENE May 29, 1997
NO CRIME FOUND IN COLLINS SHOOTING May 29, 1997
NINE MINUTES OF CONFUSION: THE SHOOTING OF LORENZO COLLINS May 27, 1997
DIAGRAM RECONSTRUCTING THE EVENTS May 27, 1997
TRAINING, POLICIES AND POLICE ACTION May 27, 1997
WHY DID THE COPS KILL LORENZO? Peter Bronson column, May 25, 1997
BORGMAN CARTOON May 25, 1997
PUSH FOR POLICE REVIEW FEARED May 9, 1997
FBI TO REVIEW COLLINS CASE May 8, 1997
MARCHERS VOW SEASON OF DISRUPTIONS May 5, 1997
PROSECUTORS GET REPORT ON FATAL SHOOTING April 29, 1997
SHOOTING PROTESTERS ALLEGE POLICE BRUTALITY April 17, 1997
DEMONSTRATORS CITE SHOOTING OF MENTAL PATIENT March 24, 1997
BAPTIST MINISTERS PROTEST AGAINST POLICE March 20, 1997
LAWSUIT SEEKS $5 MILLION March 13, 1997
PUNISH POLICE, MARCHERS URGE March 5, 1997
FATAL SHOOTING CONCERNS COMMUNITY March 2, 1997
PROBE: POLICE FIRED FOUR SHOTS AT MAN WITH BRICK Feb. 25, 1997
MAN SHOT BY POLICE AFTER CHASE Feb. 24, 1997