Roger Owensby, Jr.

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Roger Owensby, Jr. (March 27, 1971[1] – November 7, 2000) was an African American man who died November 7, 2000 after a foot chase and scuffle with the Cincinnati Police Department in Roselawn, Cincinnati, Ohio[2]

Biography[edit]

Owensby was an United States Army sergeant in the Persian Gulf War, serving eight years. He left behind a 9-year-old daughter at the time of his death and was survived by his parents and other siblings. He had no previous police record.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

The Owensby incident was a pivotal moment that fueled the racial tensions that led to the 2001 Cincinnati Riots. The two main officers who were participants in the scuffle were Ofc. Robert Blaine Jorg and Ofc. Patrick Caton. Several details came out of the investigation through independent media inquiries and contrary citizen testimony about what happened during the event. None of the officers that were involved in the incident were convicted of any criminal wrongdoing, but they were all disciplined for various levels of dereliction of duty or violation of police procedures.[citation needed]

Owensby's death was the twelfth consecutive black male who died in custody or confrontations with police since 1995.[citation needed] An indictment took place in January 2001. After the unrelated death of Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati police in April 2001, the 2001 Cincinnati Riots erupted.[citation needed]The individual civil (local) cases against the police officers Jorg and Caton began concurrently October 22, 2001. Both cases ended in November 2001, with Caton being acquitted and Jorg's case ending in a mistrial.[citation needed]On November 6, 2001 the Owensby family filed a federal lawsuit stating the police had violated Roger's civil rights, claiming he was "assaulted, tortured and killed" by police.[citation needed]

On March 17, 2006, the city and Owensby family appeared[clarification needed] to have reached a landmark $6.5 million settlementafter a federal judge awarded a summary judgment,` finding police had violated Owensby's civil rights by failing to provide medical care.[citation needed]The proposed settlement should end the federal case, but there was a later confrontation which threatened to stop the settlement (see Other Notes below) regarding an apology.[citation needed] The US Department of Justice continued to investigate whether any of the officers should face criminal charges under federal civil rights laws, although the local justice system found none of the officers guilty of misconduct or negligence.[citation needed]

Civil trial[edit]

Indictments[edit]

The charges of manslaughter and misdemeanor assault were filed against the officers Jorg and Caton on January 3, 2001 for Owensby's death. One of the main contentious points was which officer, Jorg or Caton, may have caused his death through improper use of force. Jorg and Caton had individual trials often sharing the same evidence and witnesses, but neither officer was found to have caused his death.[citation needed]

Known facts of case[edit]

Undisputed actions by the officers at the scene and video records:

  • Officer Hunter incorrectly identified Owensby as "L.A.", a suspected drug dealer who assaulted him while he was undercover recently to which the several police officers in the area responded by planning to question Owensby.
  • There are video records and many civilian witnesses were present during the incident who were present during the initial scuffle and result but only one citizen was used for prosecutor testimony.
  • Owensby was not armed and had no drugs in his possession but trace amounts of marijuana in his system.
  • Owensby was initially cooperative until the police began to handcuff him.
  • Owensby was initially tackled by Jorg around his head, and Caton grabbed him around his lower body.
  • A chemical irritant was used on Owensby within 6 inches (15 cm) of his face while he was held by multiple police, when police procedures are for use at 5 feet (1.54 m) and is against policy to use it on a restrained individual.
  • After Owensby's initial struggling stopped, Jorg emerged with blood and edema fluid on the arm that was wrapped around Owensby.
  • After Owensby was placed in the cruiser Caton was in the backseat striking him repeatedly while Owensby was handcuffed.
  • Despite the amount of blood on Jorg's sleeve and another officer who saw the way Owensby was awkwardly placed in the backseat, no medical attention was given to him for some considerable time.

Points of debate[edit]

Areas of contention that remain unanswered:

  • Whether Owensby was conscious and reactive after Jorg and Caton had restrained him
    • Ofc Caton and Jorg state that Owensby was still actively resisting even after restraint
    • Ofc Hunter and several civilian witnesses state that the officers had to drag Owensby's unresponsive body to the car
  • Whether or not drugs were found in his possession at the scene
    • Jorg, who searched him on video, did not report finding any drugs on Owensby during the search but was thorough enough to find cigars, papers, and other items.
    • 12 days after the arrest it was reported that drugs were found in his possession, the date of the photographs of the items was August 8, 2001, the day after the incident
  • The official reports by the police were shown to be time stamped at around 5 pm that day. The incident did not occur until after 7 pm.

Known questionable actions by police[edit]

Questionable actions by the police:

  • Jorg's bloody and stained sleeve was cut from his arm and placed in the trunk of the cruiser.
  • The initial reasons Owensby was stopped, as reported to his family, were that he was a drug dealer found with drugs on his person, then changed to he was wanted for assaulting a police officer and finally that he was acting suspiciously. The Owensbys still state that they have not been told why he was initially stopped in an official manner.
  • It was reported by journalists who were where the body was being held that unidentified police officers later showed up with cocaine evidence reportedly found on Owensby at the time of the confrontation. This was contrary to Jorg's initial statements and the store's video which shows otherwise. The police who brought the evidence did not leave it there and were never investigated.
  • Caton and Jorg claimed Owensby's wellbeing was the responsibility of Hunter because it was Hunter's case. The other officers assumed it was Jorg's and Caton's responsibility because they were involved in the struggle.

Verdict and mistrial[edit]

Caton was found not guilty. Jorg's case ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal. The investigation and trial had some questionable details:[citation needed]

Dubious trial procedures[edit]

  • The concurrent trials hindered any findings from the resulting decision from one to influence the decision of the other. One of the biggest disputes was which officer was responsible for the action that caused Owensby's death, but each blamed the other and the trials reflected such.[citation needed]
  • Owensby's family and legal representation were unable to track the proceedings in a practical manner causing more stress and confusion as the trials went on.[citation needed]
  • After the trial, Jorg abruptly quit the police force on the day the internal investigation was going to question him, making questioning impossible. He joined the Pierce Township police department.[citation needed]
  • Police Officer Victor Spellen, a key witness in both Jorg's and Caton's individual trials, told the grand jury presiding over Caton's trial that Jorg used a tight head wrap on Owensby, but testified while a witness at Jorg's trial that it was loose. The testimony from the individual trials were not shared. He was later fired from the CPD for his false testimony but no charges were made against him for perjury.[citation needed]
  • Certain civilian witnesses allowed to testify in one trial in defense of the officer on trial were discredited and not allowed to testify in the other. There were dozens of civilian and police witnesses to the incident but Mike Allen, the Hamilton Co. prosecutor, dismissed most of them except the shaky testimony of one individual who:[citation needed]
    • In the Jorg case testified that Jorg put a choke hold on Owensby[citation needed]
    • In the Caton case testified that she never saw Caton before although that is a widely known fact[citation needed]
    • She testified she had smoked marijuana before the incident which tainted her credibility and also testified she previously bought marijuana from Owensby.[citation needed]

Many other witnesses were interviewed by the CIS (Criminal Investigative Services) but were not used as prosecutor witness. Some witnesses reported being harassed by the police by being sought for interviews multiple times with unannounced visits.[citation needed]

  • The charges that Owensby was being arrested for had changed from the initial report to his parents until the final report by the police altering from drug possession allegations, previous warrants for assault on officers (which did not exist), being uncooperative at the scene previous to the struggle and even mistaken identity.[citation needed]
  • The Hamilton County prosecutor, Mike Allen, chooses not to re-try despite the introduction of Spellen's conflicting testimony and eyewitness testimonies that led to the deadlocked jury.[citation needed]

Combined complaint alleging racial profiling[edit]

A group combined individual civil claims against Cincinnati, the police force, and individual police as private citizens, into the Federal lawsuit brought by Tyehimba, filed March 14, 2001, on behalf of the Black men and their surviving family that had died since 1995.[citation needed] They alleged racial profiling but made sure to emphasize a demand for behavioral change by the CPD beyond or instead of punitive and restitution damages.[citation needed]

Death of Timothy Thomas leads to riots[edit]

While the criminal trial was proceeding, an unarmed 19-year-old black man, Timothy Thomas, was shot by CPD Ofc. Steven Roach during an on-foot pursuit. The combination of the rising tensions from the high-profile Owensby case and Thomas' death led to the 2001 Cincinnati Riots.[citation needed]

Status of main officers involved[edit]

Caton later won his arbitration case against the decision to have him fired for "failure of good behavior" and was eligible to work for the police force again. Jorg quit the Cincinnati police force and started working for another nearby police force in Pierce Township until mid-2003. He later moved from Cincinnati and his current status is unknown but it was reported by his father that he was unemployed for 2½ years.

Jorg wrote 13 Minutes, a book describing what happened in his own point of view.

Owensby family treatment and views[edit]

At the end of one of the sessions during the arbitration to have Caton reinstated, an angry Roger Owensby asked Caton if he (Caton) knew who he (Roger) was to which Caton allegedly responded "I don't give a (expletive) who you are."[3] Caton's attorney, however, claims that Caton was not disrespectful to anyone. Roger became enraged and was being restrained by family members to prohibit him from approaching Caton and continuing the confrontation. Although many of the people there with the Owensby family were shouting names and approaching Caton and his group, only Roger's other son, Shawn Owensby, was arrested for disorderly conduct.[citation needed]

Roger Owensby Sr., confronted City Council and during his confrontation made these claims:[citation needed]

  • He said police planted drugs on his son after his death.[citation needed]
  • He said video of the encounter, kept on a convenience store computer's hard drive, was destroyed. Owners of the store who saw the encounter were never called as witnesses during the criminal trial of officers Jorg and Caton.[citation needed]
  • Former Mayor Charlie Luken sent Owensby Sr. a get-well-soon card after he suffered an anxiety attack and was hospitalized for a day. At the bottom of the card was a handwritten question: "Can we settle for $250,000?"[citation needed]
  • "I was supposed to receive a public and written apology for the death of my son, which I have not received yet," Owensby Sr. said.[citation needed]
  • The media has failed to report that his son was an eight-year Army veteran and served with Owensby Sr. in Bosnia. Owensby Jr. also served in the first Gulf War.

The original claims by the police that Roger Owensby Jr. was found to have drugs in his possession were later recanted by the police.[citation needed]

Jorg, after leaving the Pierce Township police department, contacted the Owensbys seeking their cooperation to make money over the incident through book deals.[citation needed]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Osborne, Kevin. "Reflections on Riots & Race", CityBeat, 6 April 2011. accessed 18 April 2011.
  2. ^ Horn, Dan; Korte, Gregory (22 May 2004). "City loses Owensby decision: Federal judge: Police didn't help dying man". The Cincinnati Enquirer (Gannett Company). 
  3. ^ Perry, Kimball (2 February 2005). "Courthouse confrontation: Owensby son arrested". The Cincinnati Post (E. W. Scripps Company). Archived from the original on 2005-02-04. 

References[edit]

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