Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Policeman: I said 'doper'

Word wasn't a slur, he says, but tape analyst insists it was

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati police officer accused of using a racial slur five years ago insists he did not use the term.

Lt. Jeff Butler, publicly addressing the allegations Tuesday night for the first time, was adamant: "The term I used was 'doper.' D-O-P-E-R.''

In the swirl of controversy, everyone's forgotten, he said, that he worked at the time in the undercover drug unit, where "doper'' is common slang. The word was used at the end of a 1999 internal investigations interview. It came to light in December during depositions in an unrelated lawsuit against the city.

Using the racial slur is "the height of ignorance,'' said Butler, a third-generation officer on the force 17 years. "I realize the environment we work in. And everyone deserves respect.''

His comments came in response to Councilman Christopher Smitherman's announcement Tuesday that an Indianapolis firm he'd personally hired to enhance the audio concluded Butler did use the slur. A previous analysis by the University of Cincinnati was inconclusive, and the city's investigation continues.

Darren Sebring, the analyst at ISA Forensics who made the tape louder and slowed it down, said Butler does not say "dopers."

"It's definitely not doper," Sebring said. "You can tell that it's an N there.''

The findings also drew the first response yet from Keith Fangman, then the Fraternal Order of Police president who was with Butler during the interview.

Fangman said he "can't make out'' what Butler said, but he's certain it wasn't a racial slur. All four people in the room knew the interview was being taped, he said, and "you would have seen a visible reaction'' if anyone heard something so offensive.

ISA Forensics' Web site describes the company as a computer services firm that recovers deleted files and removes background noise from audiotapes.

Smitherman said he sought the outside analysis because he felt the city had dropped the ball on the investigation. He said he gave a copy of Sebring's transcript to City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

How Butler used the word, he says, shows a philosophy of policing some communities differently, Smitherman said.

Not everything's about racism, he said. "But this is."


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