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Dead Man Walking

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 19th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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"You're blind, baby/ Blind to the facts of who you are."
-- Talib Kweli

There's an explanation for why former Cincinnati Police Officer Robert Jorg hasn't been retried and indicted in the death of Roger Owensby Jr.: Fear is a loathsome thing.

What leaves truth seekers hanging like so much strange fruit is that the evidence against Jorg isn't mounting so much as it is piling up. That is, it's always been there. Now it's repetitious.

I've seen two tapes -- the surveillance video from inside the Bond Hill Sunoco where Jorg first encountered Owensby and another from a police cruiser picking up the confusion of Owensby's takedown.

From this abridged Behind the Hits video collection, Jorg looks like a rogue cowboy cop standing in a doorway, then shaking down Owensby and landing -- and coming to rest -- on Owensby's back with his knee. In the second tape, Jorg walks past the cruiser camera, Owensby's blood and DNA smeared down the length of his sleeve.

Mechanical asphyxia was deemed the official cause of Owensby's death last fall when Jorg and fellow cop Patrick Caton were tried for and acquitted of assault. And while the ruling is specific, it's awfully general.

Then nothing happened. Except that Ownesby's parents went a little stiffer with grief and some of us went a little more apathetic with disbelief.

Even when Jorg's police trainee, Officer Victor Spellen, swapped his original testimony for the truth that Jorg had indeed used a tighter, more brutal restraint on Owensby, the evidence remained insufficient to Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen and juries alike.

Fear's got Cincinnati by its citywide balls. But for how much longer?

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and coroner from Allegheny County, Pa., isn't double-dipped in our politics, fear, racism and classism. Last week he released a report, commissioned by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations, deciphering the specifics of Owensby's death.

Reports are fine. Yet they frustrate folks like Owensby's family and the rest of us sick to death of the cult of personality of Cincinnati cops.

We know and see the truth, and we've been patient. So what? Another report?

Will it galvanize prosecutors into action and stop surrounding jurisdictions from hiring Cincinnati's tainted cop castaways. Will it gag Jorg's mouthy and insensitive attorney?

Nope.

But Wecht's report seems different in its sameness because it names names and points fingers: " . . . the cause of death of Roger Owensby Jr. was mechanical asphyxia due to compression of his chest by Police Officer Robert Blaine Jorg, who was kneeling on his back," Wecht reports.

This is from an independent medical examiner credited with unearthing truths in a gaggle of famous deaths, including a couple of Kennedys and Elvis Presley. This should be the final report we'll ever need in the death of Owensby.

This is the final word. There's no doubt about who killed Roger Owensby Jr.

Allen said he wouldn't retry Jorg's case, but then we know he can go back on his word. Look at the fumble and feeble recovery in the case of Lt. Col. Ron Twitty.

With hands like his, Allen could play for the Bengals.

What's so wrong with justice, and why is Cincinnati immune to it? What's so frightening about admitting a cop did horribly wrong and then convicting that cop based on his actions, especially when the evidence bears out the obvious?

William Gustavson, Jorg's attorney, embodies what's rotten/rotting with this entire incident -- blaming, as he has all along, the victim.

"The entire concept that Roger Owensby Jr. died on the pavement, during the arrest, is absolutely incredible," Gustavson told a local newspaper. "At least six persons saw (Owensby) walk to the car after he was up off the pavement, and numerous people saw him in at least three different positions while in the back of the car. The last time I checked, dead men don't walk, and dead men don't move around in the back of a car."

Exactly. If they did, then Jorg wouldn't be chest deep in trouble, I wouldn't keep writing about his head fakes around justice and Roger Owensby Jr. and his family could all rest in peace.

But fear and loathing keeps us from justice. Meanwhile, we're buried deeper still in reports.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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