Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Beating case has drug link


Autopsy finds cocaine, PCP

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The 41-year-old Northside man who died early Sunday after a violent videotaped fight with Cincinnati police had cocaine and PCP in his system, the Hamilton County coroner said Monday.

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Dr. Carl Parrott said the drugs are stimulants sometimes linked to "bizarre and violently aggressive behavior."

The widely played videotape showed Nathaniel Jones lunging at police officers and hitting them as they ordered him to stop.

It took six officers repeatedly wielding metal batons to bring the 350-pound man down in a White Castle restaurant parking lot in North Avondale. He died shortly thereafter.

For police, discovery of cocaine and PCP - also known as "angel dust'' - in his system explains much.

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Six Cincinnati police officers have been placed on administrative leave following the death of Nathaniel Jones Sunday. They are from top left, Guy Abrams, James Pike, Joehonny Reese, Jay Johnstone, Baron Osterman and Thomas Slade.
(AP photo)
"It certainly clears up in our minds why he was acting the way he was," said Capt. Vincent Demasi, acting commander of the investigations bureau. He said the videotape "shows us our officers were acting within their training. He was an extremely violent individual who was suffering extensively from the effects of these drugs."

Jones' death set off an unwanted replay of the agony and anger that wrenched Cincinnati 2 1/2 years ago, when a police officer shot an unarmed black man in a dark alley. The shooting touched off three nights of street riots and revealed the depth of the city's racial divisions.

Monday, as the official investigations into what happened to Jones and why began to take shape, some activists again charged Cincinnati police with targeting blacks. Some called for the police chief's dismissal.

"If proper police procedure means that you can use that kind of force to clobber people who are clearly disarmed, there is something wrong," said Calvert Smith, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP.

Mayor Charlie Luken defended the actions of the police.

"It appears that the police responded appropriately and consistent with their training," Luken said. "They'd been attacked with a deadly weapon - a 400-pound man."

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Click to view an Acrobat PDF file (168k) showing a detailed timeline of the police encounter with Nathaniel Jones.
(Randy Mazzola infographic)
Jeff Thompson, Jones' roommate and close friend, defended him Monday, saying the father of two was not violent.

"I can't really say what made him do what he did, but what I'm concerned about is that we didn't see what happened before the tape started rolling and what happened after it stopped," Thompson said.

Jones' case was eerily similar to the death of Roger Owensby Jr., who died while Cincinnati police officers tried to handcuff him during a struggle in 2000.

Smith and other activists said the latest death shows little has changed in police use-of-force policies, despite the historic police reform settlement the city made with the Justice Department after the riots and which is monitored by federal courts.

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Dr. Calvert Smith, president of the Cincinnati Branch of the NAACP, holds a press conference Monday.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
The NAACP will conduct its own investigation into the death, which, so far, has resulted in six Cincinnati police officers being placed on administrative leave, a routine procedure in such cases.

But it was clear Monday that it would take some time for investigators to piece together exactly what happened and why.

The coroner could not yet issue a ruling on the cause of death, saying he was still gathering toxicology information, reviewing reports from medical responders and police, and examining the graphic videotape of Jones' confrontation with police.

Parrott said Jones had a "markedly enlarged heart, consistent with hypertensive heart disease." He also said Jones had linear bruises on his right calf, right thigh, right buttock and right flank.

Cecil Thomas, director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, urged people to look at the entire chain of events - from beginning to end.

"If you look at the whole tape, what you see is the officer telling (Jones) to stay back,'' said Thomas, a former city police officer. "What that's saying to me as a former officer is that they're trying to give him some space. The last thing you want to do is get into a physical, hand-to-hand confrontation. But then the individual clearly attacked the officer.''

The bruises found on the calf, thigh and buttocks of Jones' right side - presumably caused by the repeated blows from police officers' batons - show no evidence of causing damage to Jones' internal organs, the coroner's preliminary report said.

Chain of events

Jones' violent confrontation with police unfolded about 6 a.m. Sunday in front of the White Castle restaurant on West Mitchell Avenue in North Avondale.

A restaurant employee called 911 to report a man had passed out in the grass nearby. Firefighters who responded said the man was awake but "becoming a nuisance." They asked for police help.

When the 5-foot, 9-inch, 350-pound suspect attacked the first two officers on the scene, back-up officers were called and, soon, six officers were struggling to handcuff the man, striking him repeatedly with batons, the videotape shows.

When officers got Jones on his stomach and rolled him over, they realized he needed medical help.

He died within minutes of reaching University Hospital.

Jones, said Thompson, suffered from narcolepsy - a sleep disorder that can cause patients to drop off into unconsciousness without notice. That condition, Thompson said, might have been what caused Jones to pass out at the White Castle.

Monday, the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati - the group that organized a boycott of downtown Cincinnati after the April 2001 riots - demanded that Luken fire Police Chief Thomas Streicher because of how officers handled the confrontation.

Streicher is out of town, but Luken rejected that demand Monday and expressed support for the officers.

Said the mayor: "The tape is very clear and very audible. You can hear what people say to each other. At one point in the tape, it's obvious that they're trying very hard not to hit (Jones) in the head."

There are three investigations into the death under way - one by the Citizen Complaint Authority, which was created by the 2002 collaborative agreement; another by police homicide detectives and a third by the police department's internal investigations section.

Question about departure

One question Luken had Monday was why personnel from Cincinnati Fire Department Rescue Company 38 in Winton Place briefly left the scene Sunday morning.

Fire Chief Robert Wright said he can't answer that until he talks to the four-man EMS crew that initially arrived at the White Castle after a report of a unconscious man in the parking lot, then left the scene while police tackled Jones.

"I don't know what they were thinking. I don't know how they saw this," Wright said. "Maybe they saw this guy handcuffed and thought, 'It's under control.'"

The fire chief said he doubts those minutes would have made a difference.

"I don't have the benefit of the coroner's report. I wasn't there, but I just don't think that would have changed anything. He was a flatline when our guys got there."

By 6:04 a.m., the officers are seen on the tape trying to revive Jones.

"Sir! Sir!" one officer shouted.

"I don't see him breathing," another said.

The paramedics returned at 6:05 and begin CPR within a minute of their arrival. Jones was sped by ambulance to University Hospital, but died within minutes of arriving at the emergency room.

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Kevin Aldridge, Dan Horn and Gregory Korte contributed. E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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