The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

April 21, 2014

Panel’s role in Cleveland police ruling questioned

CLEVELAND — A lawyer for families of men killed in separate 2012 shootings by Cleveland police — including a 137-bullet chase under federal investigation — is questioning a grand jury’s role in a recent county prosecutor’s ruling.

Cuyahoga County Prose-cutor Timothy McGinty announced Thursday that Cleveland Patrolman Roger Jones acted lawfully when he fatally shot 20-year-old Kenneth Smith, of Euclid, in March 2012. McGinty said Jones acted reasonably and was justified.

“Officer Jones did what an officer is trained and expected to do when faced with dangerous criminals firing weapons. He fulfilled his duty,” McGinty wrote in a letter to Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams that accompanied release of his legal ruling.

McGinty said Jones “correctly and heroically took action to protect the citizens of safety of the citizens of Cleveland.”

Attorney Terry Gilbert represents Smith’s family in a civil wrongful-death lawsuit against Jones and the city that could be affected by McGinty’s ruling.

Gilbert said a Cuyahoga County grand jury didn’t hear from some key witnesses, including the investigator of Smith’s shooting and Jones himself. Gilbert told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer it was unclear whether the panel received charges from McGinty to vote on, which is standard practice.

Cleveland’s police department has been dealing with the fallout from a Nov. 29, 2012, chase, which involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90 and eventually ended with gunfire in East Cleveland. Officers fired 137 shots.

Both victims were black, and no weapon was found. The police union has defended the officers’ actions and said the driver was trying to ram them. An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures in the chase, which has prompted a federal use-of-force investigation.

On the night Smith was shot, he had been at a downtown bar with friends. Jones, who was off duty, chased a vehicle driven by a friend of Smith’s. Authorities say Smith ignored Jones’ order to exit the car and reached for a gun before he was shot once in the head.

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