Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Lt. Col. Twitty's supporters undaunted by indictment

He faces two felonies and two misdemeanors

By Marie McCain and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Supporters of Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Ron Twitty, the highest-ranking African-American on the force, staunchly maintained his innocence Tuesday, undaunted by charges that he lied about and tried to cover up the July 4 accident that wrecked his city-owned vehicle.

[photo] Lt. Col. Ron Twitty and his attorney, Sharon Zealey, leave her office Tuesday after the announcement of the charges against the assistant chief.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        A Hamilton County grand jury indicted the embattled assistant chief Tuesday on four charges — two felonies and two misdemeanors. They allege Col. Twitty falsified a police report that explained how his unmarked car received $3,337 in damage and tampered with evidence during the investigation of the case.

        If convicted on all charges, Col. Twitty, a 29-year police veteran and a popular community figure, could be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. He declined comment Tuesday.

        But his attorney, Sharon Zealey, a former top federal prosecutor, said her client was “disappointed” by the indictment and asks those who support him to not lose hope.

        “Col. Twitty is innocent and anyone who knows him — really knows him — is confident of that fact,” Ms. Zealey said during a news conference as the assistant chief, his family members and pastor, the Rev. James Lowry, flanked her.

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Denise Smith-Amos: No rush to judgement
Infographic: The indictments
        “I speak not only for Col. Twitty, but for the many in this community who are saddened by this day. We will continue to fight these allegations,” she said. “The grand jury does not and did not, today, determine Col. Twitty's guilt. This is just the beginning of the process — the beginning of the fight.”

        Col. Twitty's indictment came as no surprise to many African-American community leaders, beleaguered by the city's roller coaster-like struggle with racial injustice that included last year's Justice Department investigation of police.

        Several leaders said they were saddened and discouraged by the indictment. They pledged continued support for Col. Twitty and accused Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen of overblowing the case.

        Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, questioned whether equality for African-Americans exists in the justice system.

        “This is not about not wanting someone to be accountable. But let's face it, there has been a lot of wrongdoing in this city from the police chief on down. Other issues involving police have been a lot more serious than this and they have not been treated in the same manner.”

[photo] Lt. Col. Ron Twitty's wife, Yvonne, wipes a tear during Tuesday's press conference at his attorney's office
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        Mr. Allen deflected criticism of the indictment and insisted the investigation of Col. Twitty was unbiased.

        “No case received a more fair or thorough investigation and review,” the prosecutor said. “You have to recognize that there are some in our community whose sole purpose is to divide.”

Which story is true?

        Col. Twitty, 52, was suspended with pay July 12, a week after he told police that his city-owned car had been damaged in a hit-skip accident in front of his Bond Hill home while he slept July 4.

   A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge will be assigned to Lt. Col. Ron Twitty's case within a day or two.
   An arraignment will be scheduled; Col. Twitty must enter a plea of not guilty or guilty.
   A trial date will be set.
   Within five business days, the city must hold a pre-disciplinary hearing to determine if Col. Twitty, who already was suspended, will keep his pay during criminal proceedings. Historically, officers lose their pay after indictment.
   An internal police investigation will be finished after the criminal case is completed. Col. Twitty could be fired even if he is acquitted.
        But investigators — including Chief Tom Streicher — doubted his story, wondering why there was no debris at the scene and the vehicle was perfectly parallel-parked. At least one witness told authorities he had seen Col. Twitty in a College Hill park hours after the assistant chief said he was home in bed.

        The indictment accuses Col. Twitty of:

        • Tampering with records, a felony, alleging he falsified a police report by saying someone had hit his Taurus and fled.

        • Tampering with evidence, a felony, alleging he altered, destroyed, concealed or removed a motor vehicle to impair its value or availability as evidence in an investigation. There was no debris at the scene, the police chief was not notified by Col. Twitty of the wreck, and the vehicle was almost repaired before the chief learned of the wreck.

        • Misdemeanor counts of falsification and obstruction of official business, for allegedly lying and for hindering the investigation.

   A chronology of the Twitty case:
   July 3: Lt. Col. Ron Twitty joins friends, some of them other black Cincinnati police officers, for an evening gathering at Fricker's sports bar in North College Hill.
   July 4: Col. Twitty says he parked his city-owned car on Towne Street outside his Bond Hill apartment about 1 a.m. and went to bed. Leaving for a golf outing just before 7 a.m., he says, he finds the car has been hit and calls police. An officer arrives, writes an accident report, and the Ford Taurus — which had a flat tire — is towed to a Cincinnati city garage.
   July 9: Police Chief Tom Streicher learns of the wreck, but not from Col. Twitty. He goes to the Fuller Ford body shop in Queensgate, where the Taurus had been driven after city staff repaired the tire, and finds the $3,300 in damage nearly completely repaired.
   July 10-11: The chief consults with a range of people, including officers from internal affairs and traffic, legal experts and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.
   July 12: The chief asks the Hamilton County sheriff to investigate the case. He suspends Col. Twitty with pay. The chief calls a news conference to announce the suspension, which prompts an outcry from black officers and community leaders who charge unequal treatment.
   July 15: The National Urban League reneges on a promise to hold its 2003 national convention here, citing treatment of Col. Twitty.
   July 26: Sheriff's department finishes its investigation and hands over its report to Mr. Allen.
   July 27-Aug. 25: Heavy media coverage includes reports of possible tax delinquencies, a previous Twitty wreck, and a witness who says Col. Twitty was in McEvoy Park in College Hill long after the policeman says he was in bed July 4.
   Aug. 26: A special grand jury begins meeting to hear evidence in the case. It hears from more than 20 witnesses over 3 days.
   Tuesday: Mr. Allen announces a four-count indictment against Col. Twitty, including tampering with evidence and reports, obstructing official business and falsification.
        Ms. Zealey asked to have three defense witnesses and evidence favorable to her client presented to grand jurors during their review, which began last month and lasted 3 days.

        “In the interest of making sure that no one could credibly claim (the grand jury review) was unfair, I agreed to that...” Mr. Allen said in a Tuesday morning news conference. “Every piece of evidence (she) asked us to present to the grand jury was presented to the grand jury.”

        Col. Twitty, one of four assistant police chiefs, heads the department's investigation bureau. He has known the chief for decades and was instrumental in communicating with the black community after the 2001 riots.

        In the days following Chief Streicher's suspension of Col. Twitty, racial tension in the city once again reached a crescendo and the National Urban Leagued pulled its 5,000-delegate 2003 convention from the city, citing the very public handling of the Twitty case.

        Mr. Allen would not divulge any specific evidence Tuesday, leaving still unanswered many questions that circulated while the case was being investigated. Among those: Had Col. Twitty lied about where he was in the 12 hours before the car's damage came to light and about the time he returned home?

        Ms. Zealey called the rumors a smear campaign. She has said he was home by 1 a.m. July 4, not out until 5 a.m. as some witnesses may have said.

        Authorities investigating the case say they took extraordinary steps in the interest of fairness. The chief turned the investigation over to Hamilton County sheriff's deputies to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

        Mr. Allen said investigators worked more than 1,200 hours on the case and that grand jurors were diligent in their review of the evidence.

        But Ms. Zealey said the amount of resources put into this case — a simple traffic accident — smacks of “overkill.”

        She added that, while Mr. Allen may have agreed to present defense evidence favorable to her client to grand jurors, it was strictly controlled.

        “It is true that we asked for certain witnesses to testify and based on the information we have they did testify,” she said. “But we did not control the order in which they testified in relation to prosecution witnesses, we had no control whatsoever over the questions that were asked or how long they testified, or any other aspect of that testimony for that matter.”

        About 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Col. Twitty surrendered to authorities and was released on his own recognizance. In his booking photo, he wears a suit and tie.

        Mayor Charlie Luken got early notice of the charges Tuesday morning — about 15 minutes before Mr. Allen's announcement.

        “Lt. Col. Twitty is entitled to a presumption of innocence. He has been a valuable public servant during his career with the Cincinnati Police Department. I ask all Cincinnatians not to rush to judgment, but to let the system work,” he said.

        According to police policy, a pre-disciplinary hearing will be held within five days. After that, the city manager will decide whether Col. Twitty gets to keep his pay while the criminal case continues. In past cases, a felony indictment has meant suspension without pay pending the outcome of trialBut no matter what happens, Col. Twitty's pension will not be affected. Under state law, an officer eligible for retirement (age 48 or older with 25 years of service) keeps his pension even if convicted of a felony.

        Chief Streicher said he told supervisors Tuesday to talk about the indictment with their officers — mostly to remind them to “conduct themselves with professionalism, as they always would,” he said. “This is one of those days where they need to be visible and present for their people and to talk to them about it.”

        Enquirer reporters Kevin Aldridge and Greg Korte contributed.


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