Thursday, June 08, 2000

Sergeant tells council city is covering up for chief

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Strong words flew at Cincinnati City Hall on Wednesday as council members again took on the topics of race and policing.

        Sgt. Andre Smith, the police supervisor upset about his treatment since he reported Chief Thomas Streicher's use of a racial slur at a training session, appeared before council for the first time. He disputed the chief's explanation that the word was used to make training as real as the situations officers find on the street.

        “I was called a racist name,” he said, “and the chief simply walked away.”

        His comments started what became a two-hour council debate about what the city should do now to relieve the ongoing racial tension and prevent more.

        Council members Jim Tarbell, Pat DeWine and Phil Heimlich said the issue has been fully aired and needs to be put to rest. Councilman Todd Portune wanted to know why Chief Streicher hasn't appeared before council, and said he has no confidence that the city administration can handle the issue without help.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said he continues to believe “in the goodness” of Chief Streicher and that any vilification of the chief, Sgt. Smith and the Sentinels must stop.

        The chief admitted he used the word during a May 10 training session. Sgt. Smith disputes that, saying the session wasn't about race relations and that the chief didn't follow the comment with any lesson about not using the word.

        The chief apologized to Sgt. Smith and the rest of the class, though Sgt. Smith said he never accepted the apology. The chief is out of town at a conference.

        Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association, a group of African-American officers, said he wasn't sure what, if anything, had been accomplished except that he and Sgt. Smith were able to tell what they say is the real truth about what happened that day in training.

        He reiterated that group members want to work with city officials however they can, but he said no written plan can make people treat others well.


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