Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cop nearly lost his life, so we don't want him

Peter Bronson

In the classic Western High Noon, the hypocrites of Hadleyville want Sheriff Will Kane to protect them from the bad guys - as long as he doesn't shoot anyone.

It turns out Cincinnati is right next door to Hadleyville. But to find out why, we have to go to Cleveland.

On Aug. 27, 2002, Cleveland Police Officer Robert Taylor stopped three teens in a stolen car and was nearly run over. "I had to jump back into my car to avoid getting hit,'' he said.

Taylor and his partner then chased the car for about four minutes, until it wrecked in an alley. The cops got out and as Taylor approached, the driver tried to back over him. "It struck me and I was knocked backward into the squad car. I was trapped.''

Both cops fired. The driver was wounded and a passenger was killed by Taylor.

The shooting was reviewed by Cleveland Police homicide and internal affairs, the city prosecutor and the county prosecutor. All found it was justified. Taylor could have been killed. But 16-year-old Ricardo Mason was killed instead.

Mason was black.

And that makes Taylor unfit to be a Cincinnati cop, according to the Cincinnati Civil Service Commission.

Taylor was among 250 cops laid off in a Cleveland budget crisis. He applied in Cincinnati, and says, "They wanted me.''

His wife, Sue, said, "He was one of the first officers they made an offer to. He had glowing letters of recommendation from two supervisors, one black and one white.''

He passed a polygraph test, a five-person interview and a psychological evaluation, they said. But it wasn't over.

He also had to get past the Civil Service commissioners: Dan Radford, Robert Braddock and Margaret Allen.

They said no.

So did lawyer Fanon Rucker, who was asked to screen the Cleveland cops. Five were rejected; 25 are being hired.

Taylor said he was told the city feared more protests from the Rev. Damon Lynch III, and didn't want bad publicity. "Is that right to deny a job for those political reasons?'' he asked.

He's considering a lawsuit for being rejected without cause.

Cincinnati Human Resources Director Rodney Prince said, "We did the right thing here.''

Prince said he understands how some could say that being tested in a life-and-death struggle "makes him even better.'' Taylor's exoneration was made clear in the discussions, said Prince, secretary to the Civil Service Commission.

"But it seems to me, to have invited this particular officer would not promote healing. It would have further inflamed passions and misunderstandings.''

He said the commissioners decided the Taylor shooting was too much like the Timothy Thomas shooting in 2001 that led to riots.

But, Taylor said, "the shootings were not similar.''

He's right. Taylor was in a knee brace for weeks and was nearly killed. "It was really the only option I had."

Taylor's wife has family in Cincinnati, so he wanted to work here. It's the city's loss to reject a good cop. But he's lucky to avoid a city that expects cops to bust bad guys without hurting them.

"We are not surprised,'' said Cincinnati FOP President Harry Roberts. "The city of Cincinnati is well known for punishing good cops when they do the right thing.''

Welcome to Hadleynatti. It's about 230 miles from Cleveland - and still going south.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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