Thursday, December 4, 2003

City Council members livid over release of information

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher (right) listens as Lt. Kim Frey, head of the Cincinnati Police Homicide Unit, goes over surveillance footage and the police videotape of Sunday's confrontation between Nathaniel Jones and police officers.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
DOWNTOWN - A Cincinnati City Council majority, frustrated with the police department's handling of the Nathaniel Jones incident, responded Wednesday by clamping down on information city officials release.

Five council members - led by Democrat Laketa Cole - asked City Manager Valerie Lemmie to develop new policies on the dissemination of information, and to submit those policies to City Council for approval.

The new policies would include the release of police cruiser tapes, statements, news conferences and appearances by city officials on television or radio.

Cole said she didn't want Police Chief Tom Streicher publicly defending his officers before all the facts were in.

"While I have refrained from making a judgment, I expect you to do the same," she told the chief during a four-hour council meeting Wednesday. It was the second meeting since the Sunday morning incident.

Streicher was not given a chance to respond.

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What happened, minute by minute

From WCPO:
Slide show of images from video
View the raw police video

Christopher Smitherman, a Charterite councilman on the job just three days, attacked the police chief for putting out inaccurate and premature information.

"I don't want to hear anyone using 400 pounds in the media, because he wasn't. He was 350 pounds," Smitherman said. "This is an example of what's dividing the city, and why we can't get the truth."

He also said it was wrong for Streicher to talk about the Hamilton County coroner's findings - that Jones had intoxicating amounts of cocaine and the drug PCP in his system - before the coroner released his final report.

"I want to make it very clear that I am a newly elected official, and I will not tolerate, ever, insubordination," Smitherman told the chief. "I am one of the members of the board of directors of the City of Cincinnati. Last time I looked at it, I am Chief Streicher's boss."

Under the city charter, the police chief reports directly to the city manager, who answers to city council and the mayor.

Councilman John Cranley said it was not practical for the city manager to consult 10 elected officials before releasing a critical piece of information.

New Councilman Sam Malone, who campaigned as a law-and-order Republican, commended police for keeping the public informed.

"The perception from some folks is that if we're not releasing information, that there's a cover-up," he said. "We need to do a better job of communicating internally, so that when something happens we're all singing from the same sheet of music."

After Democratic Vice Mayor Alicia Reece said it was "unacceptable" that city officials did not personally deliver a copy of White Castle surveillance pictures to her home Tuesday, City Manager Valerie Lemmie broke down in tears apologizing.

She said health problems kept her out of the office Tuesday, and she could not personally inform every council member of the status of the investigation.

"Unfortunately, as you know, my mother is dying of cancer," Lemmie said. "So yesterday, I was having some tests done to make sure I am healthy, because my mother was very concerned about that."

Streicher, coming to Lemmie's defense, said he took full responsibility for not informing council about the White Castle surveillance pictures, which show what happened before police arrived and during the 96 seconds a police cruiser camera was turned off.

But Streicher also said no council member had ever asked to see them.

Mayor Charlie Luken, a Democrat, said he first saw the pictures on television, and it didn't bother him. In fact, he said, one of the lessons of the 2001 police shooting of Timothy Thomas and the subsequent riots was that a lack of information breeds distrust.

"I was happy that you worked so hard to get the story out to the public," he told Streicher.


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