Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Beanbag victims paid for pain


Police denies excessive force

By Howard Wilkinson, hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Forty people struck with beanbags fired by police in the April 2001 protests and riots have been paid $236,300 in a court settlement with the city of Cincinnati.

        City officials say it does not mean they agree that police used excessive force when they fired beanbags into crowds of protesters last spring.

        Attorney Bob Newman, who represented the 40 people struck by beanbags in a suit filed last year in U.S. District Court, said the settlement amounts for individuals ranged from $1,000 to $50,000 for a Louisville woman, Christine Jones. Her spleen was damaged when police fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Over-the-Rhine.

        Monday night, Ms. Jones said she felt “forced” into signing the agreement and was not satisfied with the $50,000 she received.

        “I was put in a box,” Ms. Jones said. “I felt like I had to either sign or receive nothing.”

        There were one $24,000 settlement and three $15,000 settlements, Mr. Newman said.

        Attempts to contact other plaintiffs were unsuccessful.

        Assistant City Solicitor Richard Ganulin said the agreement to pay the victims of the beanbag shootings was not an admission of wrongdoing on the part of police.

        “There is no admission whatsoever and no belief whatsoever that these incidents were the result of excessive use of force,” Mr. Ganulin said.

        The city did accept the plaintiffs' claims that they were breaking no laws when they were shot by police. Most of the incidents occurred in street protests that followed the three days of rioting that gripped city neighborhoods after a 19-year-old black man, Timothy Thomas, was shot to death by a white police officer after a foot chase.

        Mr. Ganulin said the city settled the cases for two reasons:

        • It would have been more costly to litigate them.

        • The judge hearing the cases, U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel, urged the parties to settle “for the overall good of the community.”

        “It was felt that it was better for the city not to relive this period in a federal court trial,” Mr. Ganulin said.

        The $236,300 settlement was considerably higher than the approximately $100,000 offered in March. That offer had payments to plaintiffs ranging from $1,000 to $8,000. Attorneys' fees were not part of the settlement and will be handled separately.

        Each of the plaintiffs' claims was negotiated separately with city attorneys and police department officials, Mr. Newman said. Most of the plaintiffs claimed they had been shot with beanbag rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. City attorneys could not be reached immediately for comment.

        “I would hope this means the city doesn't want to repeat the same kind of scene that we saw last April,” Mr. Newman said. “I think the city now knows the difference between an angry protest and a violent one.”

       



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