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Officer Charged in Cincinnati

By Stephanie Simon and Eric Slater
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- CINCINNATI

A white police officer was charged Monday with two misdemeanors for fatally shooting an unarmed black 19-year-old wanted on a dozen traffic violations, an incident that touched off three days of rioting last month.

The indictments triggered immediate but peaceful protests in downtown Cincinnati, which was braced for trouble. Critics attacked the charges, which could send Officer Stephen Roach to jail for a maximum of nine months, as too lax.

Roach killed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas during a predawn foot chase. A racially diverse Hamilton County grand jury handed down the indictment after hearing from 20 witnesses.

Roach is charged with negligent homicide and obstruction of official business for misleading investigators. He has been assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of the trial.

“I can’t be sure it’s enough to satisfy people that justice has been done, but it’s enough to satisfy them that (Thomas’ death) wasn’t just brushed off as others have been in the past,” Vice Mayor Minette Cooper said.

The city sent out dozens of volunteers to walk the streets and hang out in parks so they would be in position to calm any crowd that might get unruly Monday. “Emotions are very high right now,” said Woodrow Fairbanks, who was coordinating the volunteers. “We’re trying to listen.”

Some downtown merchants had boarded up their stores, and police were put on 12-hour shifts. Religious leaders planned to keep churches in tense neighborhoods open overnight.

The U.S. Justice Department also tried to defuse tensions by announcing the launch of a civil-rights investigation into the Cincinnati Police Department’s tactics, including use of force.

“Our focus will be on assisting the city to solve its problems and rebuild trust among the citizens of Cincinnati,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

Thomas was the 15th black suspect killed by Cincinnati police since 1995. Some of the victims were armed and confrontational. Others, like Thomas, did not have weapons, although the officers who shot them insisted they fired in self-defense.

When he was killed in an alley April 7, Thomas became an instant symbol of the racism, brutality and injustice that many black residents say Cincinnati doles out to them daily.