Three Cincinnati Police officers indicted, acquitted in on-duty killings since 2000

CINCINNATI – Timothy Thomas and Roger Owensby Jr. are notable figures in Cincinnati history -- for tragic reasons.

So are officers Stephen Roach, Robert "Blaine" Jorg and Patrick Caton.

The shooting death of Sam DuBose by University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing -- and Tensing's indictment for murder -- brings back memories of Thomas and Owensby Jr. Like DuBose, they were unarmed black men killed at the hands of white police officers.

In their cases, Cincinnati police officers -- not a UC officer -- were involved. Other Cincinnati police officers have been involved in on-duty killings since then, but only Roach, Jorg and Caton were indicted and went to trial.

None of them was convicted.

Roach shot and killed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas during a foot chase through a dark alley in Over-the-Rhine on April 7, 2001. The shooting led to three nights of rioting in the city.

Roach was charged with two misdemeanors -- negligent homicide and obstruction of official business. Thomas' mother said the misdemeanor charges amounted to a slap on the wrist.

"I don't feel like justice was served. I feel it was not severe enough for the severity of what he did," Angela Lesiure said at the time. "He took a life. Negligence doesn't cut it for me.''

Roach opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial, and Judge Ralph E. Winkler found Roach not guilty on Sept. 26, 2001. Roach did not testify at the trial, but he said earlier that he thought Thomas was reaching in his waistband for a gun. Later, Roach told investigators he shot Thomas accidentally.

''This shooting was a split-second reaction to a very dangerous situation created by Timothy Thomas,'' Winkler said. ''Police Officer Roach's action was reasonable.''

Winkler said Roach, then 27, had an unblemished record, while Thomas was wanted on a variety of warrants and did not respond to an order to show his hands. Most of the 14 outstanding warrants against Thomas were for traffic offenses. Thomas' friends said he had left the apartment he shared with his fiancee and 3-month-old son to buy cigarettes when he was shot.

A year after the shooting, a Cincinnati police internal affairs report said Roach violated policies by running with his finger on the trigger of his gun.

Less than four months after the trial, Roach quit the Cincinnati police and went to work for the Evendale Police Department. He faced some initial opposition within the community but he remains on the force today as a member of the traffic accident team.

Owensby Jr., 29, died after a struggle with Jorg and Caton at a Roselawn gas station shortly after  8 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2000.

Owensby Jr. was an eight-year Army veteran who had served in the first Gulf War and had no police record. Although there was no warrant for his arrest, Owensby Jr. was stopped for questioning outside a convenience store and initially cooperated with officers.

Police said Owensby tried to run and was tackled by officers. He was struck several times, forced to the ground and placed in handcuffs. He died in the back of a patrol car.

The coroner determined Owensby died of asphyxiation.

Three weeks after the killing, police released evidence logs showing they found marijuana and crack cocaine with Owensby at the scene.

Later, an independent pathologist hired by the city found that Jorg choked Owensby to death. But another pathologist -- hired by Jorg -- concluded Owensby died of an adrenaline-induced heart attack. Two city investigations -- one civilian and one police -- disagreed on whether the officers did anything wrong.

Two months after the killing, on Jan. 3, 2001, a grand jury indicted Jorg and Caton.

On Oct. 30, a jury acquitted Jorg of misdemeanor assault. It voted 10-2 for acquittal on a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter, and a mistrial resulted. Prosecutor Mike Allen chose not to retry Jorg.

Caton was tried separately on an assault charge and was acquitted on Nov. 2, 2001.

After his trial, Jorg quit the Cincinnati police force and went to work for Pierce Township police in Clermont County. He left there about 8-10 years ago.

Nearly a year after he was acquitted, Caton was suspended for using a racial slur recorded on his cruiser cam.

In 2003, Caton was fired for failure of good behavior in Owensby's arrest, but he won his arbitration case in 2004. The arbitrator ruled that Caton be reinstated -- with back pay -- and receive only five days' suspension for Owensby's death.

The mayor at the time, Mark Mallory, called the ruling "outrageous."

Caton, who worked security jobs in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, was given his job back and about $200,000 in back pay.

Caton was promoted to sergeant in 2008.

A UC officer, John Engel, and a Cincinnati officer, Douglas Depodesta, were involved in a fatal shooting of another black man, Lorenzo Collins, in 1997. Collins had walked off from the lockdown psychiatric unit at University Hospital and was threatening officers with a brick. They ordered him to drop it, but he didn't. A minute passed. Then Engel and Depodesta shot Collins.

The shootings were ruled justified and no charges were filed.

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