Thursday, December 4, 2003

Family says Jones was never violent

He spent much time helping grandmother

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] The grandmother of Nathaniel Jones, Bessie Jones, reacts during a press conference led by attorney Ken Lawson (right).
(Michael E. Keating photo)
A man who died in police custody Sunday morning was never violent, his family says.

In their first public comments Wednesday, the family of Nathaniel Jones say they believe six Cincinnati Police officers must have said or done something to make the 342-pound man lunge at them moments before they hit him with batons while trying to handcuff him.

The Hamilton County Coroner ruled Wednesday that the roughly three-minute struggle between Jones and police in a White Castle parking lot in North Avondale was the underlying cause of the 41-year-old Northside man's death.

Jones was unarmed at the time of the confrontation. The six officers involved in the incident have sterling performance records, city records show.

"Everyone who knew him, loved him," said his aunt, Diane Payton. "I have never seen him violent, I know the way he handled his children. This was just not him."

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Payton, aunts and uncles and Jones' grandmother, Bessie Jones, talked about Jones at the office of attorney Ken Lawson. He said it's not yet been decided if the family will file a lawsuit in the death.

"We're sitting here because of a phone call calling for help because (White Castle employees) thought he was sick," Payton said. "Now he's dead."

Lawson pulled Bessie Jones close, putting his arm around her.

"This was a very traumatic week for the family," Lawson said. "Not only because of the loss, but because of some of the statements made by city leaders."

Specifically, Payton criticized Mayor Charlie Luken who she says called her nephew a "deadly weapon" because of his weight.

"He had bare hands, no gun, no bricks, no sticks, no nothing," she said. "All he had was his bare hands."

Lawson said his office will do an independent investigation by looking at how police and paramedics responded and interviewing witnesses at the restaurant, and will have an independent autopsy completed on Jones' body.

Lawson said city officials' early defense of the officers' actions might taint the investigations.

"That's wrong," he said. "It takes away from their investigative ability. To do it properly, they should not feel any pressure."

A father of two

Jones, who graduated from Woodward High School, was raised by his grandmother. His mother died three years ago. Bessie Jones said she doesn't know where his father is.

From an early age, family and friends called him Skip or Skipper because he loved peanut butter, Bessie Jones said.

The Northside man worked in residential group homes caring for handicapped people.

He has two children, Nathaniel "Nate" Jones, 14, and Tyrique, 12, who live in Cleveland with their mother.

"The kids knew who their dad was and they never wanted for anything," said Jeff Thompson, Jones' roommate.

Jones visited the children over Thanksgiving weekend, returning to his home Saturday morning.

Thompson said Jones took it extremely hard when his mother died. But he had since devoted his life to his grandmother - taking her to the grocery store, to do her laundry and helping her with whatever errands she needed done.

"He's all I had," Bessie Jones said breaking down in tears.

Thompson, 46, shared a Hansfield Street apartment with Jones for the past several weeks. He said the two were lifelong friends who looked out for each other. Thompson said he was currently going through some financial difficulty, and Jones had let him move in with him until Thompson could get back on his feet.

"He was my best friend. No, he was more like my little brother," Thompson said.

Bessie Jones said no matter how outraged people are by her grandson's death, anger and violence are not the answer.

"Let's be peaceful," she said. "We don't have to hurt one another. I don't care what color you are - love me and I'll love you."

Staff Writer Kevin Aldridge contributed.


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