CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati's police union has ordered its president to stop participating in a process to update the city's landmark agreement on police-community relations.
That process is less than two months old. Mayor John Cranley's spokeswoman and City Manager Harry Black said it would continue anyway.
Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge 69 is "extremely disappointed with the attacks" on Sgt. Shannon Heine by civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein and activist Iris Roley, FOP president Sgt. Dan Hils wrote in a letter Tuesday.
Heine's bombshell testimony during Ray Tensing's second murder trial -- that the former University of Cincinnati police officer may have been justified when he shot Sam DuBose -- led Gerhardstein to file a complaint on behalf of DuBose's family. An internal investigation by the police department found no wrongdoing.
Anger over that complaint led FOP members to vote Monday night for Hils to stop taking part in the process of reviewing and renewing the Collaborative Agreement, a 2002 court-mediated deal for how police officers and the community should interact with one another. He told 700WLW's Bill Cunningham "maybe 10 percent" of union membership was present for the vote.
Gerhardstein and Roley helped shape the original agreement, and they've been working with police and city officials on the "refresh" to better reflect what policing looks like today.
While it's been lauded as the framework for 15 years' worth of police reforms, the Collaborative Agreement began as an answer to a lawsuit alleging a 30-year pattern of racial profiling within the Cincinnati Police Department. It also came about a year after riots erupted over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man.
In the wake of several high-profile police shootings around the country, local and federal leaders have pointed to Cincinnati as a model for how police departments can build trust.
Monday night's vote doesn't mean the FOP is turning its back on the community, Hils said.
"I want to work with members of the community in a collaborative fashion," Hils said, "but you can't expect me to sit with somebody that's essentially punching me in the nose."
Gerhardstein said he's hopeful he can work out the issue with Hils and get the FOP back at the table, "because it's just too important to be hostage to one dispute."
"If we're going to reach out and do something different, the FOP should be at our side and say, 'We want to do it this way,' because their voice has been critical for 15 years," Gerhardstein said. "There's no reason to take it away."
City Manager Harry Black called the FOP's decision "disappointing" and, like Gerhardstein, hoped the union would return.
"From the beginning the FOP was welcomed as a partner in the Collaborative Agreement process as they were 15 years ago," Black said in a statement. "This was solely the FOP’s choice and they are certainly entitled to make the decision as they see fit."
How the Tensing trial is involved
Heine took the stand for the prosecution in the murder trial of Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, but ended up supporting the defense's case. When cross-examined by defense attorney Stew Mathews, Heine testified that she thought Tensing’s 2015 shooting of DuBose, who did not have a gun, could be justified.
DuBose’s family demanded an investigation into that testimony. Gerhardstein, their attorney, said in a complaint to Chief Eliot Isaac that Heine "undermined the prosecution's case," suggesting she prevented the jury from convicting Tensing and contributed to a second hung jury.
"You have the prosecutors saying publicly they were blindsided," Gerhardstein said Tuesday.
He and Roley disputed Hils' characterization of that complaint as an "attack."
"This is a legitimate question about whether her conduct in the Tensing trial was appropriate," Gerhardstein said.
A Cincinnati Police Department internal investigation found Heine "had a legal obligation to answer the questions" and that "no violation occurred." An investigation is still pending with the city's Citizen Complaint Authority, Gerhardstein said. The Complaint Authority, independent of CPD, was one result of the Collaborative.
"That's not an attack," Roley said. "We're utilizing a process."
Representing the DuBose family, the local NAACP and several other community organizations, Roley issued a statement to the media shortly after Tensing's second trial ended in a mistrial.
"This was a blatant miscarriage of justice, and will never be acceptable to our community. A murderer walks free with no accountability for taking the life of an unarmed black man," Roley wrote. "We will remain steadfast and continue on the path towards justice and seek accountability by exploring any and all options towards that end, beginning with our demand that the University of Cincinnati immediately terminate Officers Kidd and Lindenschmidt, additionally we will be promptly filing a complaint for the termination of Sgt. Shannon Heine. We will not give up."
Why the Collaborative Agreement matters
It’s been 16 years since the fatal police shooting of unarmed Timothy Thomas on a dark street in Over-the Rhine erupted into a riot. The community's reaction was a flashpoint that uncovered long-simmering tensions and frustrations between residents and Cincinnati police.
Just a month before, in March 2001, the ACLU of Ohio and Cincinnati Black United Front filed a lawsuit alleging a decades-long pattern of racial profiling.
The Collaborative Agreement was a promise to do better, re-evaluate problem-oriented policing practices and build trust between authorities and minorities. Most of the reforms remain in place today, but leadership changes and budget challenges over the years have affected some of the priorities, according to officials.
Just because there are no riots today doesn't mean the work of racial equality is done, Roley previously told WCPO. She was an original member of the Cincinnati Black United Front.
"We have not yet answered the question: Can we have public safety and racial fairness?" Roley said. "The world as we know and around us in the United States is exploding with police-community problems, and Cincinnati has been there."
By refreshing the agreement, city leaders hope to identify any gaps and challenges and improve on successes. Hils stood with city, community and religious leaders at a City Hall news conference June 2 to announce the process had begun.