Monday, December 1, 2003

Man dies after brawl with city police officers



By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A 41-year-old man died after a violent struggle Sunday morning with Cincinnati police officers outside a North Avondale fast-food restaurant.

The fight, which included the nearly 400-pound man hitting officers and police repeatedly striking him with nightsticks, was caught on tape from a camera in an officer's patrol car.

[img]
Nathaniel Jones, from 1998 police booking photo.
(AP photo)
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Coroner's Statement Regarding Suspect's Death

Within minutes of the struggle ending, Nathaniel Jones was dead.

The six officers involved were placed on administrative leave while several agencies, including police homicide and internal affairs units, the Citizen Complaint Authority and the Hamilton County Coroner's Office investigate.

Assistant Police Chief Richard Janke said the police video shows that the officers followed their training and were justified in using force to subdue Jones.

But Roger Webster, Fraternal Order of Police president, said that after the incident the officers were treated like suspects. He said they were questioned for hours, read their legal rights and only allowed one phone call.

"My question to the police administration is, what criminal act are you investigating? You are accusing these cops of being criminals," Webster said angrily outside police headquarters. "That is why they don't want to work, because they are treated worse than the criminals they arrest."

In June, the Citizen Complaint Authority cleared a police officer of any wrongdoing in the Feb. 9 shooting death of a burglary suspect in Northside.

Of the officers involved Sunday, authorities identified the two who responded first: Baron Osterman, who has one year on the force, and James Pike, a seven-year veteran.

Police officials, radio transmissions and the video give a picture of how the circumstances unfolded at the White Castle at 64 W. Mitchell Ave., just west of Vine Street.

About 5:50 a.m. a White Castle employee called 911 to report that a man had passed out in the grass outside the restaurant.

"He's breathing, but he keeps hollering 19," she told the call taker.

When emergency medical personnel arrived, Jones was awake and "becoming a nuisance" at the restaurant, according to a tape of radio transmissions in which firefighters ask police to respond.

In the video, Jones walks toward an officer, who yells, "Stay back."

Jones then lunged, swinging at the officer's head before he stumbled into the officer, taking him down.

The two officers, Osterman and Pike, jabbed Jones in the torso with nightsticks as they repeatedly yelled, "Put your hands behind your back."

But Jones continued to fight, flailing his arms and grabbing one of the police batons. The officers called for backup, asking especially for someone with a stun gun. Eventually, six officers responded, many of them also using their batons to strike Jones. After a struggle with all six, they got Jones on his stomach and his arms behind his back.

The officers turned Jones over after he was handcuffed over and realized he needed medical help, Janke said.

"He looked to be in enough distress that the officers immediately called for a fire company," Janke said.

Jones had a pulse when EMS arrived, but he died within minutes of arriving at University Hospital, Janke said.

Why Jones behaved as he did is not yet known, Janke said.

During the struggle, officers tried to call for an officer trained to deal with people with mental health problems, but the officer was on another call.

Police did not use a stun gun, but did use chemical spray in addition to the batons. Janke did not know how many of the officers hit Jones.

Police estimate that Jones, who was 5 foot 6 inches tall, weighed 400 pounds. They did not release a current address for Jones.

According to court records, Jones pleaded guilty in 1998 to possessing cocaine and was given three years probation, which included inpatient treatment at Talbert House. A month after his sentencing, Jones violated his probation and was sentenced to a year in jail, records show.

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E-mail bkelly@enquirer.com




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