Enquirer News Update   -   Updated 6:40 p.m.

Officers cleared of wrongdoing
in Jones investigation

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen cleared six Cincinnati police officers of criminal wrongdoing in the death of Nathaniel Jones, an intoxicated man who died after a violent struggle with officers as they tried to arrest him.

Allen said today that he will not present the case to a grand jury.

"My office sees no evidence that any crime was committed by any police officer," Allen said.

Ohio's code of professional responsibility says prosecutors cannot seek criminal charges when they know, or it is obvious, there is no probable cause that a crime was committed.

Jones, 41, died Nov. 30 after his enlarged heart gave out after a violent struggle with the six Cincinnati officers in the parking lot of a White Castle restaurant in North Avondale. The struggle was caught on police videotape and shown repeatedly on national television news.

The videotape shows Jones lunging at the officers, who then struck him repeatedly with their batons. .

Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has always defended the officers. But Jones' death angered some community members, who said it was another example of a African-American man dying at the hands of white Cincinnati police officers.

Streicher said the officers, at least two of whom were pulled to the ground by Jones, are trained to view such a struggle as "an armed engagement," because they no longer have total control over their weapons.

The chief returned officers James Pike, Baron Osterman, Jay Johnstone, Joehonny Reese and Thomas Slade to the road a week after Jones' death.

Allen said the officers were attacked by Jones.

"It is always troubling when someone dies in police custody, but when officers are subjected to unprovoked attacks by citizens, they have not only the right, but the duty to defend themselves," he said. "In defending themselves, they also defend you and me."

Ken Lawson, the attorney for the Jones family, has criticized city and police officials for supporting to the officers' defense before the investigation was complete.

Lawson had no comment Monday, but said on Feb. 5 that the Hamilton County Coroner Carl Parrott's report indicates that Cincinnati police did not follow procedure.

Allen's decision comes after a three- and half-month investigation in which the Cincinnati Police Department's homicide unit investigated the crime, then passed their findings to Allen's office where he and top prosecutors Mark Piepmeier and Tom Longano reviewed the case.

Parrott said Jones' history of high blood pressure, intoxicating levels of the drug PCP and cocaine in his system and his obesity all contributed to his death. Jones weighed 348 pounds. Parrot also found that Jones could not breathe in part because he was left lying on his stomach.

Allen has had the case since January. In his review, he said his office looked at four components: The police investigation, which includes a narrative from the investigators and 41 witness interviews; the completed autopsy report; video recorded from a police cruiser camera and from a White Castle security camera; and police department procedures regarding the proper use of the officer's batons.

At a 6 p.m. press conference, Allen explained his decision not to take the case to a grand jury and detailed what happened the morning Jones died.

Shortly after arriving at the White Castle at about 5:30 a.m., Jones walked outside with an employee he knew. Jones fell down a hill and his eyes rolled back in his head, prompting the woman to tell other employees to call 911.

By the time firefighters arrived, Jones was back on his feet and inside the restaurant, but he was acting "peculiar," employees told investigators. Jones was shouting numbers, marching in place, dancing, squatting and shouting obscenities at people at a neighboring Marathon gas station.

"Statements from witnesses confirm that there was no confrontation between the police officers and Mr. Jones until Mr. Jones swung at the officer," Allen said.

Allen noted Jones' health, his manner of death, his drug use and the wounds he suffered.

"Mr. Jones was an unhealthy man with a very unhealthy heart and recklessly unhealthy lifestyle," Allen said.

He had ingested cocaine, PCP and methanol or embalming fluid, which enhances the effect of other drugs.

Although the autopsy lists Jones' manner of death as homicide, it does not imply inappropriate behavior or the use of excessive force by police, Allen said.

"It is merely a characterization of the circumstances in which the cause of death came to be," Allen said.

The autopsy, Allen said, shows that any wounds Jones suffered as a result of the struggle were to his arms, legs and torso, consistent with the police protocol of how to use a police baton.

The presence of cameras in this case provide a detailed account of events from the moment Jones stepped from his car until he was taken to the hospital, Allen said.

But about 90 seconds was missing from the police videotape just prior to the struggle.

The police department hired Avid Technology's Forensic Video Solutions of Spokane, Wash., to analyze the video which includes a time-matched version of events from video taken from Officer Pike's cruiser and the White Castle security tapes.

"At the end of the (missing 90 seconds) Jones is clearly seen approaching Officer Pike," said Grant Fredericks, a former police officer who works for Avid Technology. "I have formed the opinion that there was no physical contact between Jones and Pike prior to the (cruiser video) being re-engaged."

The company also reported that the physical struggle lasted two minutes and 55 seconds. Officers swung or jabbed their batons 36 times toward Jones, all directed at his arms, torso and legs.

The video also shows that during this time, officers called out 23 times with commands to Jones to back up, show his hands or put his hands behind his back, Allen said.

When looking for violations of Ohio law, Allen said he saw only offenses committed by Jones, not the officers.

"I point out these offenses to emphasize that the victims of crimes were officers, not Mr. Jones," Allen said.

Jones was initially being disorderly, Allen said. However, when he attacked the police, his actions became a felonious assault. As the struggle continued, Allen said, Jones is seen trying to take a police baton and a police handgun.

By Ohio law, if a person attempts to remove a deadly weapon from a police officer, the offense is aggravated robbery, Allen said.

Two White Castle employees told investigators they saw officers hit Jones in the head, which is not seen on the video.

Allen said that action did not play a role in Jones' death because the coroner's report shows that Jones suffered only minor scrapes to the head, other witness statements didn't support that and head injuries were not a factor in Jones death.

E-mail scoolidge@enquirer.com