Thursday, April 15, 2004

Shootings laid to guns on street


Police chief says criminals feeling heat

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AVONDALE - A man walked out of the house and saw police. Within seconds, a routine drug investigation Tuesday night turned into a chase, shootout and two-hour search for the man who fired a sawed-off shotgun at a Cincinnati officer.

It was the second time in five hours - and the fifth time in less than two months - that Cincinnati officers either exchanged shots with or fired at suspects after having guns pointed at them.

One of the five suspects is dead, shot by an undercover drug officer Tuesday afternoon in Columbia Township.

Chief Tom Streicher said he thinks the spike in shootouts indicates that suspects may be feeling more desperate: "When the cops are getting more aggressive and hounding people, people start to feel the pressure.''

And it may also be because there are more guns on the street. Officers recovered 1,366 guns in 2003 - an average of almost four a day. That was a 30 percent increase from 2002.

"There's just a lot of weapons out there,'' Streicher said.

Sheriff Simon Leis, who supervises the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit, said his investigation into Tuesday's fatal shooting should be complete by next week.

In that incident, Cincinnati Officer John Mercado - working undercover with the narcotics unit - shot and killed Jonathan Crenshaw, with whom he and other undercover drug officers were making a deal to buy 50 pounds of marijuana, Leis said.

Crenshaw twice aimed a revolver at Mercado, Leis said. On the police dispatch tape Crenshaw is heard saying he can't breathe. Mercado can be heard repeatedly telling Crenshaw that he's going to be OK.

"Nobody likes to have this happen,'' Leis said Wednesday. He called the shooting justified.

Streicher described Mercado, 37, on the force almost 14 years, as "an exceptional guy'' whose work ethic is "off the charts.''

Mercado is on administrative leave, which is routine in police-involved shootings.

The chief also said it appeared officers followed procedure in the Avondale shooting, but that review continues.

Both incidents started as drug investigations.

The other three men with Crenshaw - his brother, Charles, 27; Tamboura Truitt, 33; and John Preston Ballard, 25 - were charged with possession and trafficking in marijuana. Each was being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

In the nonfatal shooting, members of District 4's Violent Crime Squad went to an apartment building on Hickory Street, where they had arrested suspects in drug crimes before. They saw a man, later identified as Dennis Miller, leaving the building and tried to talk to him - but he ran, said Sgt. Rick Lehman.

Officers Angie Smallwood, Jeremy Howard and Bryant Stewart chased him for several blocks.

Stewart tried to stop Miller by shooting him with a Taser, but the electrically charged barbs of the gun didn't stick because Miller was wearing a thick coat, authorities said. Police said Miller drew a sawed-off, 12-gauge shotgun from the coat and fired at Stewart, who fired back three times. No one was hitin the exchange.

Miller ran from the officer. About two hours later, a police dog found him under a porch in the area. The dog bit Miller, 30, of Winton Place.

Police charged Miller with felonious assault in the shootout, and he was in the Hamilton County jail Wednesday.

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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