Saturday, December 6, 2003

FOP comment riles fire unit



By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] FOP President Roger Webster speaks publicly about police and firefighters' actions in the death of Nathaniel Jones. At right is Tom Jones, president of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force.
(Gary Landers photo)
The leader of the Cincinnati police union Friday steadfastly stood behind six officers involved in the death of Nathaniel Jones, but criticized city firefighters who left the scene of the fatal confrontation.

Standing in front of nearly 50 uniformed officers in the union's first major response since Jones' death, Fraternal Order of Police President Roger Webster said he was upset because "these guys got back in their truck and drove away."

The words hit hard at firehouses across the city.

Joe Arnold, acting president of Cincinnati Firefighters Local 48, said Webster's comments were disappointing, particularly since he talked to Webster Tuesday, reassuring him firefighters will not bail on their "brothers in blue."

"We would prefer that President Webster would focus on police procedure and police discipline, and leave the procedures of the Cincinnati Fire Department and possible discipline of Cincinnati firefighters to Local 48 and the Cincinnati Fire Department," Arnold said.

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The 10-year firefighter in charge of the crew that left and returned after one minute and 43 seconds remained on stress leave at his own request Friday. Firefighters were first called to the restaurant, then called police for help. The firefighters left after believing officers had the altercation under control.

Gregory Adams faces an administrative hearing into whether his decision to leave violated a city policy covering care of combative patients.

The firefighters involved, with Arnold as their union representative, met again Friday with department officials investigating their actions.

The altercation between the officers and Jones, who lunged at one of them, has led to accusations of police brutality against African-Americans.

Jones weighed 342 pounds. His death was complicated by his history of heart disease, obesity and drug abuse, Hamilton County's coroner said. He ruled Jones' death a homicide.

But union leaders vowed Friday that the incident will not alter the way Cincinnati police respond to violent incidents. "If someone punches one of our officers in the face, we are not going to back off," said FOP Vice President Keith Fangman. "We are not going to walk away."

Ken Lawson, the lawyer representing the Jones family, called the union's comments reprehensible.

"For them to say (the arrest) was perfect and that they'd do exactly the same thing again, is dangerous," Lawson said. "It underlines why the community is upset. They don't care about human life."

Protesters target police

Outside police headquarters Friday night, about 30 protesters chanted, "Hidy, hidy, hidy ho - Chief (Tom) Streicher's got to go."

Dan LaBotz, a Miami University professor, said Jones' death shows a failure of leadership and that the group will "keep up the pressure until Tom Streicher is gone."

Another protestor, Morris Williams, 55, posted a handwritten eviction notice on the District One door. It called for Streicher to be ousted now for "failure to care about black men's lives." The posting, police Lt. Jeff Butler said, violates a municipal code prohibiting posting bills on public buildings without permission of the city manager.

Streicher, in his 33rd year, repeatedly has said he doesn't plan to quit anytime soon. He could not be reached Friday.

The Rev. H.D. McBride, pastor of New Temple Baptist Church in Evanston, led the group in a prayer for justice and an end to the deaths of black men in confrontations with police. Since 1995, 18 African-American men have died in confrontations with Cincinnati police.

"We're not tired of praying," he said. "But Lord, we need help."

Blacks and crime

Fangman said the community's outrage should be over the high level of crime in predominantly black neighborhoods. It is the same issue he focused on after the 2001 police shooting of Timothy Thomas and ensuing riots.

He said the union has asked national leaders to help work on that issue, "but none of them have come back to Cincinnati since the riots to help us with that."

Standing in front of rows of pictures of officers killed on duty, Fangman also said if the Jones family files lawsuits against the officers, the union will offer the "full weight and power of FOP attorneys" to defend them.

Lawson has said the family hasn't decided if they will file a lawsuit. Lawson said he is doing his own investigation, including hiring an Indiana expert to do another autopsy. Results are expected to be released next week, Lawson said.

Six investigations into the officers' actions are continuing, including a preliminary inquiry by the Department of Justice to determine if a larger investigation is warranted.

A boycott group, Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, sent letters to President Bush and the nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, asking them to join in their demand for an investigation by the Justice Department.

Email jprendergast@enquirer.com




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