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Black and White

By Stephanie Dunlap · February 23rd, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Many in Cincinnati's African-American community are furious about what they see as the police department's double standard for disciplining white and black officers.

Among those convinced that a white police lieutenant lied about wrecking a car to cover for the white female officer who actually did it are Councilman Christopher Smitherman and Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association.

When a black officer, Sgt. Calvin Johnson, fussed about the cover-up, Chief Tom Streicher assigned his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Richard Janke, to investigate. After catching some flak for that, Streicher reassigned the investigation to the Internal Investigations Section (IIS).

Johnson was immediately transferred, a move Smitherman and others believe was retribution.

Janke wrote to City Manager Valerie Lemmie Feb. 15 that Johnson was transferred to fill a vacancy and because he wasn't getting along with his lieutenant. He also defended his involvement in the investigation as "appropriate and normal per our procedure."

According to the IIS report, Officer Lauren Smith turned off Reading Road onto Chalfonte Place looking for a suspect just before 4 a.m. Dec. 9. She turned around in a cul-de-sac and was heading back out when she spotted someone, so she parked her car in the middle of the street and got out to see if it might be the suspect.

Meanwhile, Lt.

Christopher Ruehmer had seen her turn and decided to follow her down the narrow street, according to what he told IIS. Her car blocked his, but instead of backing out, Ruehmer got into Smith's car and backed it about 10 feet -- right into a parked Lincoln Continental.

Johnson was one of three officers who responded. If any of them weren't buying Ruehmer's story about why he moved Smith's car, only Johnson spoke up. But apparently another officer was troubled by Smith's comment to him -- "I don't know why the lieutenant is doing this" -- and reported it to Johnson.

Smith told IIS she'd actually said, "I don't know why he moved my car."

Then came an administrative juggle. The accident had to be reported, so Ruehmer called Lt. Donald Luck, who said they'd meet at District 4. Luck told IIS he gave Ruehmer his password so Ruehmer could start on paperwork while Luck was en route.

"Lt. Luck expressed unfamiliarity with the ETS (Employee Tracking Solution) and Lt. Ruehmer requested Lt. Luck's password so that he could begin the report," the IIS report says.

Luck still wasn't there by the time Ruehmer finished, so Ruehmer called Luck back, read him what he'd written and got the OK to send it.

A police internal investigation and a city prosecutor concluded that Ruehmer and Luck violated administrative procedures in reporting the accident, but didn't lie about the accident itself.

Both Ruehmer and Luck also wrote in their nightly rounds, a wrap-up of the shift, that Luck had gone to District 4 and written the report. The IIS report dismisses this as an oversight, as both Luck and Ruehmer "typed their nightly rounds in the middle of this investigation, while Lt. Luck was finishing paperwork prior to responding to District Four."

After approving what Ruehmer read to him over the phone, the two "did not feel it was necessary for Lt. Luck to continue responding to District Four but did not amend their rounds to reflect Lt. Luck did not respond."

But critics say that misstatement alone should be enough to subject them to Streicher's "zero tolerance" policy on lying, instituted in 2002 after Lt. Col. Ron Twitty lied about damage to his police car. Not only did Twitty lose his job, but the city prosecuted him.

To some, the difference is skin-deep.



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