How the death of a man in police custody changed Cincinnati

CORRECTION: A jury found officer Patrick Caton not guilty in 2001.

When Roger Owensby Sr. saw the video of George Floyd taking his last breath while being held on the ground by a Minneapolis police officer, only one thing occurred to him.

“I feel like I’m going to see my son die again.”

Owensby’s son Roger Owensby Jr. died the same way 20 years ago in Cincinnati. Two Cincinnati police officers were charged: one found not guilty; The other had a process that ended with the jury standing still.

For Owensby and many others, Floyd’s death – which led to days of protest in cities across the country – is a reminder of how much work the nation has to do to protect the lives and civil rights of minorities.

“Nothing has changed in 20 years,” Owensby told The Enquirer over the phone from his home in North Carolina.

For some, however, it is a reminder that progress has been made in Cincinnati, although often it is painfully slow. After the riot and riot in the city in 2001, fueled by anger over the deaths of Roger Owensby Jr. and eleven other black men who died by police, Cincinnati went to a long and arduous effort to get the police department established reform.

The city’s use of force policy is one of the most progressive in the country today due to changes following Owensby’s death and the death of Nathaniel Jones, who died in handcuffs after attacking officers.

The department has banned restraint techniques such as choke holds – except in situations where an officer’s life is at risk – and more officers began to use tasers. This was followed by the city’s cooperation agreement, which encouraged the police to use problem-solving strategies such as working with the community. It recently underwent a major review and the update work is still ongoing.

“Good Policing” in Cincinnati today

Minneapolis could learn a few things from Cincinnati, local leaders and experts told The Enquirer.

Scott Greenwood, a police attorney who helped draft the colloquial agreement, said watching the Floyd video will bring him back to troubled times in Cincinnati.

“It reminded me so much of the Owensby case and the death of (Jones),” said Greenwood.

He said most of the city’s major police departments view choke holds and neck rests as deadly equivalents of violence and are either banned immediately or only allowed in situations where an officer would use their gun.

In the wake of Jones and Owensby’s deaths, the Cincinnati Police Department “retrained everyone and strictly regulated any kind of position restrictions,” Greenwood said. “They just don’t do it.”

Cincinnati Deputy Mayor Christopher Smitherman, chairman of the Justice and Public Safety Committee, said talking about what was going on in Minneapolis was “like talking about where we used to be. That was 17 years ago. There is this police department not today.”

MP Cecil Thomas was in the city center during the protests on Friday evening, where bottles and stones were thrown at police officers. Thomas, a former police officer, was encouraged by the reluctance of the police.

“That was not the case in 2001,” he said. “There is good direction from above. The officers do good policing.”

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said the department had “come a long way” after a second night of protests on Saturday, in which a police officer was shot dead but his helmet saved him from injury.

“We have done a tremendous amount of reform,” said Isaac. “We know our department and profession are busier. We learned lessons from 2001. Today we practice implicit bias, fair and impartial policing. We keep looking for things. We want to continue to stay on the front end . “

Charlie Luken, who was the city’s mayor during the 2001 riots, said the police response to the weekend protests was “one of the most professional policing demonstrations ever”.

“Our entire community has seen the teamwork, training and sensitivity of our police force. Almost 20 years of work,” he said. “Worth every courtroom, every meeting – every argument.”

The suffocation of Roger Owensby Jr.

Owensby died on November 7, 2000 after officers pinned him face down on the sidewalk outside a supermarket in Roselawn. The coroner found that Owensby’s death was due to “suffocation while attempting restraint.”

Former Cincinnati police officer Robert Blaine Jorg was on trial for involuntary manslaughter, but the jury was bogged down and prosecutors decided not to go on a second trial. Officer Patrick Caton has been charged with offenses, but a jury found him not guilty at one trial. Caton stays in the department.

According to a filing in a lawsuit that resulted in a $ 6.5 million settlement, the largest the city has ever seen, Owensby may have been targeted by officials.

Essie Owensby, grandmother of Roger Owensby Jr. (foreground photo), responds to two Cincinnati police officers being charged with the death of their grandson in police custody.

On the evening of November 7th, officer Alexander Hasse and another officer were in a shopping mall on Seymour Avenue arresting someone on a marijuana possession offense. Hasse said they sent a request for a ticket book so they could provide a quote.

Jörg and another officer, Patrick Caton, answered in a vehicle. Officer David Hunter replied in another. They said they happened to notice Owensby, a man who ran away from Hunter a few weeks ago. It was dark and court documents say Owensby was about 50 yards away.

Caton and Hunter went to the shop and Jörg got his staff from his cruiser. Owensby went into the store and bought an energy drink and two cigars. As he was leaving the shop, Jorg confronted him.

Owensby was an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War. His criminal record included some drug and misdemeanor arrests, records show.

He was eventually taken to the parking lot undercover and a fight broke out when officers tried to handcuff Owensby, whose arms and hands were under his body.

Caton sat on Owensby’s thighs and buttocks. Jörg put Owensby in a “head covering” – he lay over Owensby’s shoulders and put his left arm around Owensby’s head.

Cincinnati Police Officer David Hunter demonstrates seeing his colleague Patrick Caton straddle a handcuffed Roger Owensby Jr. and repeatedly beat him while he was on the ground during the 2001 trial of Officer Robert Jorg.

Jörg also put a knee near Owensby’s left shoulder. At 7:48 pm, Caton made an “officer needs help” call and several other officers answered. One, Darren Sellers, said on his dismissal that it was impossible to know whether the difficulty the officers had in getting Owensby’s arms out was due to resistance or the combined weight of the officers and Owensby.

After the handcuffs were put on, Caton reportedly said, “Mace this Motherf —–.”

“Hunter directed Jorg to lift Owensby’s head so he could look him straight in the face,” wrote a federal judge, Arthur Spiegel, in a 2004 order that allowed the lawsuit to continue.

Jorg then lifted Owensby’s head, turned his own head away, “and slid his knees into Owensby’s back.” Spiegel wrote.

Five officers picked up Owensby, whose face was injured and bleeding, and put him in the back of a police cruiser. There was an argument about whether he was passed out.

Spiegel said none of the officers tried to provide medical care to Owensby.

Officer Brian Brazile, who arrived after the fight, used his flashlight to see Owensby in the back seat of the cruiser.

“That looks good. Can he breathe “Said Brazil.” It doesn’t look like he can from the way he is lying. “

In response, two officers “shrugged indifferently,” wrote Spiegel. Brazil went away.

A total of 13 officials responded to the scene, according to documents. A sergeant eventually asked an officer to roll down the cruiser’s window so he could see Owensby. The sergeant took a pulse and found he wasn’t breathing.

Owensby was pronounced dead at 8:47 p.m.

Another “positional suffocation”

Three years later, in November 2003, Nathaniel Jones died in handcuffs. But his death was due to many factors other than being unable to breathe while lying face down on the floor.

Jones had PCP and cocaine in his system when he attacked officers outside White Castle on West Mitchell Avenue. It took six officers, using three sets of handcuffs to hold him back.

Still from the police dashcam video showing the November 30, 2003 incident with Nathaniel Jones.

The county coroner attributed Jones’ death to heart problems associated with violent fighting and positional asphyxiation.

The officers were exempted from the wrongdoing. In 2004, after Jones ‘family filed a federal lawsuit, two of the officers sued Jones’ estate in Hamilton County. They each received $ 13,000 for injuries sustained in his arrest.

The department’s use of body control tactics changed after Jones’ death, said Dan Hils, fraternal order of the Cincinnati Police Chief. It was agreed that they were not effective.

“We were therefore trained in positional suffocation,” said Hils.

The Cincinnati Police Department’s violence policy classifies choke holds as a form of lethal violence. Eliot Isaac, the Cincinnati police chief, reminded officers on Friday: “Any type of choke hold is not appropriate or necessary.”

“There are some good ones out there”

Owensby’s father, Roger Owensby Sr., follows the news. Every time a black man dies in police custody, he contacts the family to offer his assistance.

“Over the past 20 years I have contacted 63 different families who have experienced this,” he said.

Every death in custody makes Owensby Sr. think of his son.

He thinks of the time they served together in the US Army, both stationed in Bosnia.

He thinks of the times when they would go fishing.

He thinks of family outings.

Owensby Jr. had a daughter at the time of his death. She was 9.

Roger Owensby Sr. and his wife Brenda listen as the clerk reads the verdict in the 2001 trial of Cincinnati police officer Robert Jorg.

Owensby took his wife, younger son, and Owensby’s daughter to North Carolina to get away from it all.

They come back to visit Owensby Jr.’s grave in Crown Hill Memorial Park.

One of those times was 2009. The family was driving on Reading Road when they were stopped by a Cincinnati police officer.

When the officer got to the car he asked, “Are you the Roger Owensby?” Owensby Sr. recalled, “I said yes. This is a white officer. He apologized for what happened. He said when he did was in the academy they used my son’s death as training, a tear came from his eye.

“There are some good ones out there.”

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