Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Probe of shooting remains stymied


Council demurs at subpoenas for 2 involved

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Citizens Police Review Panel says the only way it can complete an inquiry into a Cincinnati officer's shooting of a shoplifter two years ago is by issuing subpoenas for two witnesses.

        But City Council members Monday were reluctant to grant the authority and appeared unmoved by panel arguments that its findings are widely different from what police investigators found.

        “Witnesses so far have contradicted the officers,” said panel member and lawyer Paul De Marco. “That goes right to the heart of the justifiability (of the shooting).”

        And he said the witness closest to the scene — a store security guard — and the man who was shot have so far refused to respond to the panel's questions.

Limits to authority
        That wasn't good enough for council members, who would have to issue the subpoenas on behalf of the review panel.

        Saying the panel had not proved the value of compelling citizens to testify, council members questioned whether the panel had overstepped its authority.

        “It doesn't say if the investigation wasn't thorough and accurate you are allowed to go out and conduct your own investigation,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, referring to the ordinance that created the panel.

        The shooting took place Nov. 6, 1998, outside a Kroger store in Walnut Hills, where Timothy Blair was suspected of having stolen an over-the-counter painkiller. Although store security guard James Haney pursued Mr. Blair, it was Cincinnati Officer Daniel Carder who caught up with him as he tried to get into a car.

        In investigation reports, Officer Carder said his arm became entangled in Mr. Blair's coat during the struggle and that he was forced to shoot while he was being dragged as Mr. Blair tried to drive away.

        After Mr. Blair was shot, his foot hit the gas and the car slammed into a van, which then jumped onto a sidewalk and pinned a 5-year-old boy underneath. The boy suffered permanent injuries.

        Officer Carder remains on duty and city officials have agreed to wait on any discipline until the panel makes its recommendations.

Won't answer questions
        Mr. De Marco said Monday that both Mr. Haney and Mr. Blair have refused to cooperate in the panel's review and that they also refused to assist in investigations by the department's internal affairs unit and the city's office of Municipal Investigations.

        Arguing against the subpoenas, Police union president Keith Fangman said the security guard and Mr. Blair made tape-recorded statements to police investigators. He said if the panel has additional questions, it should submit them to “trained investigators” rather than make an independent inquiry.

        Mr. Fangman repeatedly said the council should not allow citizens to “be dragged down here against their will.”

        Public Safety Director Kent Ryan also questioned the authority of the board. He said the panel is allowed only to review cases, not investigate them. When asked whether he thought subpoenas should be issued, he said that witness “statements are available for review.”

        This is the first time the panel has requested a subpoena since it was created 18 months ago.

        “I know of no better way to assess their credibility than to have them here,” said lawyer and panel member Keith Borders.

        But city officials say the council has rarely used its subpoena power in the past 30 years.

        Instead of granting the subpoe nas, council members asked the panel to justify in writing what it hoped to gain by compelling witnesses to come forward.

        Specifically, they want to know how various statements would affect the outcome of the review.

        “I never wanted this group to have subpoena powers anyway,” said Councilman Charlie Winburn, chair of the council's Law and Public Safety Committee. “We're going down the wrong track.”

       



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