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The Blue Isn't Black & White

By Stephanie Dunlap · January 19th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
Just as being accused of a crime doesn't automatically make a person guilty, being a police officer doesn't automatically make a person innocent. There are probably as many levels of professionalism in the Cincinnati Police Department as there are officers: about 1,050.

In a study dated Nov. 14, 2004, the Citizens Complaint Authority (CCA) called 23 of those officers into question. Each of the 23 officers had complaints against them by at least 10 separate citizens between 2000 and September 2004.

The 2002 Collaborative Agreement directs the Citizens Complaint Authority to "examine complaint patterns that might provide opportunities ... to reduce complaints." The study examined three types of patterns: repeated complaints against the same officers, repeated complaints made by the same citizens and repeated complaint circumstances.

The most officers to qualify for inclusion on the list -- seven of the 23 -- came from District 4, which includes Corryville, Walnut Hills, Avondale and Bond Hill. Five officers came from District 3, which patrols Price Hill, Westwood, Millvale, North and South Fairmount and South Cumminsville.

District 1, which covers downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End, claimed four officers. Three came from District 2, which includes Evanston, East Walnut Hills, Madisonville and East End.

In addition, two officers each came from the Cincinnati Vice Crime Squad and the Criminal Investigation Section.

No police officers from District 5 -- Clifton, Northside, College Hill and the University of Cincinnati -- made the list.

The most glaring story of misconduct seemed to be told by the 20 different people who made 31 allegations against Officer Spencer Henderson of District 4 between December 2000 and September 2004. Investigators fully sustained 13 of the allegations against him, including excessive force; racial or ethnic insensitivity; discourtesy (twice); coarse, violent, profane language (twice); unlawful detention (twice); physical abuse; unlawful search and seizure (twice); and improper procedure (twice).

Running up but making better time was Officer Dean Chatman of District 1, who received 25 complaints from 10 different people between May 2002 and September 2004. Investigators sustained 11 of those allegations: six of improper procedure and five of discourtesy.

On the other hand, investigators upheld few to none of the allegations against some of the other officers in the report. For instance, investigators sustained none of the 22 allegations against District 3 Sgt. Michael Fern, though one disposition is still pending and the file is missing from the incident that spawned two other allegations.

But even the unsustained complaints might tell some sort of story: Fern was the subject of 10 excessive force allegations from seven citizens.

The report includes disconcerting findings such as "inconclusive," "no response from CPD," "file missing" or "no file."

In keeping with the charge to also track citizens who make multiple complaints, the CCA listed those who lodged at least three complaints between 2000 and September 2004. The most came from Antonio Colbert, who made eight complaints including a total of 14 allegations.

Also on that list was Marvin Jackson, a mentally ill man taunted by District 1 Officer David Donnells (see "Be a Man, Take It," issue of May 5-11, 2004). Investigators sustained the allegation of serious misconduct against Donnells, who as a result has a written reprimand in his file for three years.

After directing the CCA to conduct studies such as this one, the collaborative charges the CCA with working jointly with police to "undertake a problem-solving project to determine the reason(s) for the pattern and whether there are opportunities to eliminate or reduce root causes."

Such a joint effort seems highly unlikely, because even though copies of the study went to Police Chief Thomas Streicher, City Manager Valerie Lemmie and CCA board members, the two-month-old report has drawn little notice.

If nothing comes of it, it wouldn't be the first time the CCA's findings have been dismissed. Lemmie rejected recommendations to severely discipline three of the officers the CCA found to have used excessive force in the 2003 death of Nathaniel Jones in police custody.

All The News That Fits: Leads, entrails and tales we couldn't get to.


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