Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Officer shoots, kills suspect

Sheriff: Man in drug sting pointed gun

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBIA TWP. - An undercover drug investigator working in a regional drug squad for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office fatally shot a suspect Tuesday during a marijuana sting after the suspect fled and then twice turned a gun on the officer, Sheriff Simon Leis said.

The suspect, identified as Jonathan Crenshaw, 22, of Mount Airy, was taken about 4 p.m. to Bethesda North Hospital, where he died.

A preliminary investigation has determined the shooting was justified, Leis said.

The sheriff's office investigation will continue and more information is expected to be released today.

"The investigation is in its initial stages and we do not know all and every detail of the incident," the sheriff said in a news conference late Tuesday.

The officer was identified as Agent John Mercado, who works in the sheriff's Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit, a joint agency with the Cincinnati police that is supervised by the sheriff's office.

Mercado may take a few days off if he wishes, but isn't required to take administrative leave, Leis said.

He is an experienced officer, but Leis did not know how long he had been with the unit.

"He is an outstanding officer, just a top notch, real good law enforcement officer - one of the best," Leis said, adding that Mercado was "doing very well" late Tuesday.

The shooting erupted in Columbia Township about 4 p.m. after Mercado and two other undercover agents met with the suspect about a 50-pound marijuana transaction, the sheriff said.

Crenshaw left a home at 5450 Ellmarie Drive off Red Bank Road to check whether the buyer of the marijuana had the necessary money. He was to meet the agents at Hooligan's Pub & Eatery nearby, Leis said.

When the suspect pulled into Hooligan's parking lot, Agent Steve Lawson and Sgt. Jay Grampke attempted to arrest him and "he took off running," Leis said.

The suspect ran from the parking lot across Kennedy Avenue and through backyards onto Donald Street.

The three gave chase and after a couple hundred yards, on Donald Street, the suspect turned around and pointed a handgun at Mercado, who fired a shot that struck the suspect in the right thigh, Leis said.

"The round spun the suspect around and, again, the suspect pointed his weapon at Agent Mercado, who responded by firing two more rounds," the sheriff said. "One round struck the suspect in the left chest area, dropping him to the pavement. Agent Mercado then walked up to the suspect while Sgt. Grampke kicked the suspect's weapon away from his reach. Two neighbors independently witnessed Sgt. Grampke kicking the weapon away from the suspect."

Three other suspects in the drug sting were arrested at a different place, Leis said.

They were identified as John Preston Ballard, 25, of Kennedy Heights; Tamboura Truitt, 23, of Columbia Township; and the dead man's brother, Charles E. Crenshaw, 27, also of Mount Airy.

In March of 2003, Jonathan Crenshaw pleaded no contest to transporting a loaded weapon, a misdemeanor, Hamilton County court records show. He was put on one year probation and permitted to serve 30 days on house arrest, records show.

Jonathan Crenshaw and Ballard also have been convicted in Hamilton County, on drug charges, according to court records. When Ballard was arrested Tuesday, he also was wanted on an open warrant for missing a court date on March 8 over a February citation. He was cited for possessing a digital scale with cocaine residue on it, records show.

A woman who answered the phone at the Crenshaw's Mount Airy home late Tuesday said Crenshaw's mother did not want to immediately comment.

Leis said he had no plans to call in another law enforcement agency to conduct an independent investigation. He also declined to release radio transmissions until today.

"I don't intend on getting an outside agency. We are more than competent to do the investigation," he said. "I am confident it will be done very quickly and very fairly."

Mercado was involved in an incident in which a team of officers fired nonlethal weapons at a crowd of protesters during the April 2001 unrest in Cincinnati.

Mercado, five other Cincinnati police officers and a state trooper were ordered to clear an Over-the-Rhine intersection. They fired beanbags into a crowd gathered after the funeral of Timothy Thomas, whose shooting by a Cincinnati police officer sparked riots.

After a six-month investigation, federal prosecutors declined to prosecute the officers.

A Cincinnati police internal investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying their actions conformed to the policy at the time.

Enquirer contributor David Eck assisted in this report.

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