Friday, September 12, 1997
Justice suffers as city sits
on Depodesta case


BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Justice is supposed to be blind. Not flatfooted.

With impartiality and timeliness as the lady's twin pillars, you expect justice to be quick about playing fair.

That's why I think the city needs to pick up the pace in the case of Douglas Depodesta.

He's the Cincinnati cop who shot Lorenzo Collins, the brick-wielding mental patient. Officer Depodesta has been criticized for his actions and is in administrative limbo while the city figures out whether he's fit to be back on the streets.

The city's deliberations on Officer Depodesta are moving way too slow.

Lorenzo Collins was shot on Feb. 23. Since then, the career and life of Officer Depodesta have been on hold. Stripped of his police powers July 1, he had to go to court last month to get his gun and badge back.

But he's not back on the beat. Despite being cleared by several investigations, he's shuffling papers at police headquarters. He'll keep doing clerk work until he takes some psychological tests - formally called a ''fitness for duty evaluation.'' This is to see whether he can go back to work and show sound judgment during high-stress encounters on the job.

As Police Chief Michael Snowden said: ''We just want to make sure he has his head on straight before we send him back on the street.''

Fair enough. That protects the policeman as well as the citizens he may encounter.

But when is that evaluation going to happen?

Safety Director Kent Ryan said he's ''doing telephone interviews with doctors.'' Then he'll ''go visit them.'' They're out-of-town psychologists and psychiatrists. ''We want total objectivity.''

Me, too. This is a sensitive case that raises a lot of tough questions.

On the day he was shot, Lorenzo Collins was in police custody. The convicted felon - with a history of mental problems and drug abuse - escaped from a hospital ward.

Fifteen armed police officers surrounded him in a yard near the hospital. He waved a brick. Shots were fired by Officer Depodesta and a University of Cincinnati campus cop. Three bullets struck Lorenzo Collins. He died five days later.

The shooting death of an unarmed man ignited community outrage. Protesters picketed Officer Depodesta's house.

Officially cleared by four separate investigations, the policeman remains the focus of public anger and mistrust over police use of deadly force.

Waiting game

You can't be too careful in a case like this. But you can take too long.

The safety director doesn't think he's been dragging his feet. ''I'm moving ahead as fast as I practically can.''

His search for someone to evaluate Officer Depodesta did not begin until the city's Office of Municipal Investigation completed its report Aug. 1.

A month later and there's still no evaluation.

The safety director said he's taking the time to ''make sure we get the best and the most objective evaluation we can.''

I'm all for getting the best. But, do the test. It's not that hard to find a psychologist these days.

Cincinnati psychologist Gail Friedman has treated policeman in therapy and conducted fitness-for-duty evaluations.

''Any qualified psychologist or psychiatrist can do them,'' she said.

A combination of written personality tests and one-on-one interviews, the evaluation is designed to see ''how an officer would handle stressful situations.'' The whole package would take three hours.

''After that, we get a pretty good idea of how someone reacts to stress.''

Within reach

It took me one phone call and 10 minutes to reach Gail Freidman.

I realize she's a local psychologist. I know the safety director wants to go with out-of-towners for ''total objectivity.''

But I still don't understand what's taking so long.

While the safety director plods, the community's sense of justice and fair play for all suffers.

If Officer Depodesta is unfit for street duty, let's find out and move on. If that's not the case, he deserves a timely judgment and the opportunity to go back to work. That's all anyone can ask, and what we all deserve.

Every one of us.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.

RADEL ARCHIVE

Previous stories

JUDGE TELLS CITY: STOP DELAYING September 9, 1997
DON'T SHOOT? Peter Bronson column, August 31, 1997
JUDGE BLASTS CITY'S DELAY, RESTORES OFFICER'S BADGE August 29, 1997
COP ASKS JUDGE TO STEP IN August 27, 1997
COP WHO SHOT COLLINS WANTS GUN, JOB BACK August 23, 1997
YATES WANTS FEDERAL GRAND JURY August 18, 1997
BLACKS VOW TO ESCALATE PROTESTS August 12, 1997
CITY ISSUES COLLINS REPORT August 5, 1997
COPS SHOULDN'T HAVE FIRED, OMI SAYS August 2, 1997
COLLINS REPORT LEAVES QUESTIONS August 2, 1997
20 PROTEST AT COP'S HOME July 13, 1997
COLLINS CASE TO GET PUBLIC REVIEW July 3, 1997
POLICE ORDERED TO CARRY BATONS July 2, 1997
REVIEWS CLEAR POLICE IN COLLINS SHOOTING July 1, 1997
COLLINS CASE IS BEING DISTORTED An Editorial, June 8, 1997
POLICE SUPPORT OFFICERS IN SHOOTINGS June 5, 1997
POLICE UNION, PROTESTERS PLAN DEMONSTRATIONS June 3, 1997
ENOUGH GUILT TO SHARE Laura Pulfer column, June 3, 1997
SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER Peter Bronson column, June 1, 1997
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