Sunday, December 14, 1997
A tragic night
Nine days ago in Clifton Heights, two police officers were fatally surprised during an arrest. Moments later the killer himself lay dead. Interviews with dozens of people who knew the three men help shed some light on how routine events culminated in one of the most woeful days in the city's history.

BY MARK SKERTIC, TANYA BRICKING
and LISA DONOVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It took only an instant for Alonzo Davenport to jerk a handgun from his waistband and fire once at Spc. Ronald Jeter. In another blink, the .38-special would swing to the head of Officer Daniel J. Pope and fire again.

It happened so fast that neighbors would say later it sounded like two firecrackers breaking the silence just before midnight on a snowy night.

Then a third blast rang out two blocks away and another man lay dead.

The echoes of those shots have continued to reverberate for more than a week, as the community mourns the loss of its protectors, officers mourn the loss of brothers, and families mourn the loss of sons, a husband and a father.

Dec. 5 ended with tragedy. It began as just another day.

salute
The fatal scene: Alonzo Davenport's first-floor apartment at 23 West Hollister St.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |

The morning

Alonzo Davenport woke up Friday and knew police were looking for him.

The sound of officers pounding on the front door of his home at 23 W. Hollister St. about 11:30 a.m. interrupted his sleep, he later told a girlfriend. He glanced out of the window to see them driving away.

He knew police wanted to pick him up. They'd been by a week before when he wasn't home, and a uniformed officer told his girlfriend, Alana Strother, to urge him to surrender.

He had lived in the first-floor apartment for less than a year, but he had lost his job at Children's Hospital and had been unable to pay the rent for a few months. Until the night before, it had been home to Ms. Strother and their 2-year-old daughter.

Thursday, his temper erupted and he fought violently there with Ms. Strother. Mr. Davenport pistol-whipped her, then put a gun to her head, she said later.

She was so angry she took their daughter that day and left.

Thursday night, Mr. Davenport went out with Bridgette Blackmon, another girlfriend and mother of his 10-month-old daughter. They spent the night at Caddy's Complex downtown, then went to breakfast afterward.

Their date didn't end until she dropped him at home sometime after 4 a.m. "He called me to make sure I got home OK,'' she said last week. When he called her again later Friday morning, they talked about getting together that night.

davenport
Alonzo Davenport
About the same time, Mr. Davenport was getting home, Officer Pope and Spc. Jeter were getting off work. They worked the 8 p.m.-4 a.m. shift in District 5, an area that begins in Over-the-Rhine and stretches north to College Hill.

Police call it the late power shift, a stretch that overlaps the normal evening and overnight shifts officers work.

As members of the Criminal Apprehension Team, plainclothes Officers Pope and Jeter had the job of going after the hardest-to-catch suspects. The job takes brains and bravery, serving warrants and finding people whose primary goal is to avoid the police.

Spc. Jeter woke his girlfriend Sonya Zanders about 4:30 a.m. to let her know he had made it to their home in Oakley safe and sound.

Officer Pope arrived at his log home in Harrison not long afterward. He walked in just a few hours before his wife, Linda, had to report to work for her 24-hour shift as a Cincinnati firefighter.

The afternoon

The three men who would come together tragically just as Friday ended all slept most of the morning away.

Not much could be learned about Mr. Davenport's final afternoon, but both officers had busy days ahead of them.

Officer Pope was working a security shift shortly after 3 p.m. at a housing construction site in Winton Place. He had permission to be an hour late for his police shift, so his partner would have to fill him in on what he missed at roll call.

As a city cop he worked some of Cincinnati's grimiest neighborhoods, but his home was on an open stretch of land that was half a county and a million miles from the streets he patrolled. Hiking, skiing, planting trees and caring for animals were the ways Officer Pope relaxed.

The phrase is overused, but with him it was true: Police work was in his blood. His father and uncle were both retired Cincinnati police officers, and devotion to public service permeated the family. His wife, Linda, is a firefighter; his brother is a fire division captain.

"He was a friendly, outgoing guy who just loved what he did,'' said Dan Herrmann, the University Construction superintendent working on the Winton Place project.

Mr. Herrmann talked to Officer Pope while he worked security that day. "He was telling me how busy he was on cases, how work was,'' he said. "He was just here trying to earn some extra money for Christmas.''

When he got off work the next morning, Spc. Jeter also was going to work private security, at the Kroger store in Winton Place.

While his partner loved living in the country, Spc. Jeter was a city guy. Raised in Columbus, he was a former Marine who wanted to take on the tough police assignments. SWAT, CA T- those were the kind of jobs for him. When the robbery task force convened every year around Christmas time, he looked forward more than ever to going to work.

Friday afternoon he was at Paramount Fitness Center in Westwood.

At 5-feet-2, 150 pounds and able to bench-press 400 pounds, he had a body like a child's action figure.

He was confident, tough. But some of his assignments still drew teasing from others at the gym. When he worked the gay task force as a decoy for soliciting prostitutes, it brought him more than his share of kidding.

He made a few stops on the way home from the gym to pick up dry cleaning and a present for his girlfriend. A divorced father, he was talking about Christmas gifts for his children.

By 6 p.m. he hopped into the shower, and Ms. Zanders began to help him prepare for work. He was very neat about everything, especially his appearance. She ironed his jeans as he got cleaned up. She took him the pants and he put them on along with a black T-shirt. Then she helped him put on his bullet-proof vest - often a difficult task. His arms were so large from weight-lifting that he couldn't reach the Velcro straps that bind the sides together.

The evening

Days after Alonzo Davenport killed two police officers and turned the gun on himself, his family and friends continued to struggle to understand. How could a man they remember as polite be a violent killer?

They say the phrases "thank you'' and "yes, ma'am'' still peppered his conversation years after many of his peers forgot their manners. Sometimes shy in a crowd, his aggressive nature emerged on the basketball court.

He'd recently earned his GED and was looking for another job, his girlfriend, Ms. Strother, said.

But Alonzo Davenport didn't like police. Those who knew him say his attitude was no different from that of many other young African-American men growing up in Over-the-Rhine or the West End. For many, a cop is often your enemy, maybe a nuisance to be worked around, but never your friend.

If he and his friends were hanging out on a street corner, the police would stop and ask what they were doing. If they were driving a nice car, they were pulled over and asked whose it was. And if they were outside drinking or smoking a joint, a cop was going to get in their face and give them trouble.

All of those things happened to Mr. Davenport, friends say.

He also had a temper. It didn't explode often, but when it did he could be violent. He'd sought counseling earlier in the year to help him control it. Both his girlfriends had filed domestic-violence charges against him.

The warrant the officers tried to serve that day was issued after Ms. Blackmon complained in October that Mr. Davenport had choked her and pulled her hair.

It was one of seven warrants pending against him. Mr. Davenport also was wanted for violating terms of an unrelated domestic-violence conviction and another domestic-violence charge ‹ both involving Ms. Strother ‹ as well as for two counts of suspected drug abuse, passing a bad check and a traffic violation.

He got a handgun last summer, after he was the victim of a robbery. "He told me he wanted to be able to protect me and our daughter,'' Ms. Strother recalled.

That Friday night, with Ms. Strother gone, he partied with Marvin Jones, a boyhood friend who had moved in with him and Ms. Strother months before.

Ms. Blackmon met up with her boyfriend that night at his home about 9 p.m. Mr. Jones was there. They watched television and relaxed until around 11 p.m., when she gave the two men a ride down to Vine Street.

They told her they were going to go to a club, but plans changed soon after. They met up with friend Angela Mills and a 14-year-old girl, and the four headed back to Hollister Street.

Spc. Jeter arrived at the Ludlow Avenue station house just before 8 p.m. During roll call, announcements were made and new and old cases were discussed. Officers were released to their assignments, and the usual ribbing followed.

A couple of officers were teasing Spc. Jeter about his green cap, asking if he was posing as an elf on some kind of case.

"Ron was talking about his 9-year-old daughter, Brittany,'' District 5 Sgt. Don Luck said. He was "saying that she wanted only clothes for Christmas and he was excited that his daughter had called him earlier in the week and he couldn't believe how big she was.''

Officer Pope walked into the station house just after 9 p.m., and they reviewed their plans for the night. Like his partner, he was in plainclothes, with a bullet-proof vest beneath his shirt. A police badge hung from a chain around the neck of each man.

Officer Pope said he was going to try again to question a robbery suspect whom he wasn't having luck finding. After that they were going to check on a robbery case that Spc. Jeter thought was bogus. He thought the victim might have lost the money gambling.

Among the arrest warrants they were handed to try to execute that night was one for Mr. Davenport at 23 W. Hollister St.

Sometime after 11 p.m. they approached the house. The people inside apparently heard them coming and quickly turned off the lights.

The officers walked away. A few minutes later they came back. They announced who they were and said they were looking for Alonzo Davenport.

Before opening the door, Mr. Davenport hurried to grab the handgun he'd hid behind a recliner. He slipped it into the back waistband of his pants.

After briefly questioning those inside, the officers recognized Mr. Davenport by the gold tooth evident when he smiled, Ms. Mills said later. They grabbed him by the arms.

Neither officer Pope nor Jeter ever pulled their weapons. They didn't see the gun Mr. Davenport had hidden until they had pulled his arms behind him to handcuff him.

Epilogue

There was a bitterly cold wind, and snow was falling as medical crews worked on the two officers inside 23 W. Hollister St. But it was clear from the start, those who were there now say, that their wounds were too devastating to offer much hope.

With tears streaming down their faces, officers began the slow task of piecing together what happened in that nondescript gray house in the closing minutes of Dec. 5.

A short time later, Cincinnati awoke to the news. Memorials grew within hours.

At Calhoun and Jefferson streets, at the blood-spattered spot where Alonzo Davenport took his own life, friends left roses, cards and stuffed animals.

Less than a mile from where the officers were gunned down, people placed letters, candles, carnations, roses and wreaths at the foot of the Cincinnati Police Memorial on Ezzard Charles Drive.

What's harder for many to lay aside is the anger, confusion, frustration and fear that welled throughout the week. There were 37 homicides in Cincinnati in 1997 before officers Pope and Jeter were gunned down. But the city took the deaths of two police officers personally.

"Killing a cop doesn't just break the law,'' Police Chaplain Mark Pruden said from the pulpit last week during Dan Pope's funeral Mass. "Killing a cop demonstrates the epitome of contempt for the God who created the world and the laws he provided.

"That's why an entire city grieves when a cop is killed.''

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