Lawsuit filed against police officers in Avondale shooting death

CINCINNATI - The mother of a man killed in a confrontation with Cincinnati police last month and another man who was injured filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the five officers involved in the incident.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges the officers acted recklessly when Dontez O'Neal, 19, was shot four times and killed Nov. 21 in Avondale.

Robert Mathews, who also was shot in the incident but lived and suffered a fractured arm, is the plaintiff in the wrongful death lawsuit along with Anternitia O'Neal, the dead man's mother.

Mathews and O'Neal are represented by attorney Eric Deters.

The altercation occurred after undercover police officers said they bought heroin from Mathews in Winton Terrace. Mathews, 23, lives in Avondale and has been described by police as a prominent gang member involved in drug activity throughout the city.

The undercover officers followed a car that contained Mathews, O'Neal and Gerry Branner from Winton Terrace to Avondale. That's when they requested a uniformed officer to stop the suspects, according to police.

Officer Orlando Smith attempted to stop the car on Burton Avenue. The vehicle made a U-turn and tried to leave but Smith's cruiser blocked its exit.

At that point, O'Neal allegedly pointed a gun at Smith and fired but missed the officer, police said.

Smith returned fire, hitting O'Neal at four times, including once in the head. He died shortly afterward.

One of Smith's bullets also hit Mathews in the arm; Mathews was seated behind O'Neal in the vehicle.

"Orlando Smith is the same murderer as anyone walking around without a badge," Anternitia O'Neal said.

The lawsuit states that the vehicle used by the undercover officers was empty when O'Neal accidentally bumped into it while turning around.

Further, it alleges neither man had a gun at the time, and that Mathews had his hands in the air and was surrendering when he was shot.

"Neither Dontez O'Neal or Robert Mathews displayed any weapons, nor did they do anything besides attempt to leave the scene," the lawsuit states.

Also, the lawsuit alleges that Smith and other officers tampered with video footage of the incident that was taken by a dashboard camera in the police cruiser.

The officers "destroyed dash cam video of the events in order to avoid criminal or civil consequences, which they knew would probably be brought, as a result of their deliberate conduct in battering one Plaintiff and murdering another," the lawsuit states.

"The video that was destroyed by the Defendants relate directly to the Defendants' conduct at critical times and such destruction was in bad faith," it adds. "Video exists which relates to what happened immediately before and after the events."

"I will fight this until the day I die," O'Neil stated.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages. It was filed against Smith and four unidentified officers listed as "John Does."

Smith, an 18-year CPD veteran, is on paid leave pending an investigation. He has shot suspects three times before during his police career, although none of them were fatal.

The city's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment.

Mathews is charged with four counts of drug trafficking.

Branner, 22, is facing charges of assault, trafficking in drugs, carrying a concealed weapon, criminal damaging, unauthorized use of property and other charges stemming from open warrants for past incidents.

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