Officer acquitted in death case that sparked race riots

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The Independent US

A white police officer was acquitted yesterday over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, an incident that sparked Cincinnati's worst racial unrest in three decades.

Stephen Roach had been charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business after he shot Timothy Thomas, 19, in a dark alley early on 7 April. Ralph E Winkler, a Hamilton County municipal judge, gave the verdict after hearing the trial without a jury, at Mr Roach's request. The officer did not testify.

"Thomas' actions in running from numerous police and not following police orders ... was unfortunate," the judge said. He added that Mr Roach's record was unblemished, while Mr Thomas' was not, and noted that Mr Thomas failed to respond to an order to show his hands. He concluded that the shooting was "not a culpable criminal act".

In three nights of rioting that followed the shooting, dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested before a temporary curfew ended the disturbance. The Ohio city had not seen such racial unrest since the Rev Martin Luther King Jnr was assassinated in 1968.

As a precaution, city officials said that additional police would be on duty when the verdict was announced. They said they did not expect a repeat of the earlier violence.

Mr Roach, 27, was believed to be the first Cincinnati police officer to go to trial on charges of killing a suspect, the police said. He had faced up to nine months in jail if convicted.

Mr Thomas had been wanted on 14 warrants, including traffic charges and fleeing police. Before being killed, he had run from three other officers and scaled fences in a neighbourhood plagued by guns, drugs and violence, Mr Roach's lawyer said. Investigators found no weapon on him.

Stephen McIntosh, the prosecutor, said Mr Roach was running down an alley with his finger on the trigger of his 9mm pistol when he shot Mr Thomas, rather than keeping his finger off the trigger until a threat was perceived, as Cincinnati officers are trained to do. Other officers testified that they did not draw their weapons or perceive a need to do so, Mr McIntosh said.

Merlyn Shiverdecker, the defence lawyer, said Mr Roach was doing his job by trying to catch a man named in arrest warrants. He said the officer's fear caused him involuntarily to fire his weapon.