C I N C I N N A T I, Dec. 2, 2003 -- Police appeared to follow procedure when attempting to subdue a black man who later died, and "it's obvious one of the officers was assaulted" before the taped beating began, Police Chief Thomas Streicher said today.
Nathaniel Jones, 41, died at a hospital shortly after being taken into custody Sunday outside a fast food restaurant. The 350-pound man was struck repeatedly with nightsticks in a confrontation captured by a video camera mounted on a police car.
While he stressed that the investigation was incomplete, "I think there's enough on the tape to have a preliminary judgment about what occurred," Streicher said on NBC's Today. "It's obvious one of the officers was assaulted while he was trying to calm down Mr. Jones."
"I can't see anything that's outside this procedure at this point," he said.
Panel Investigates Death
The Citizen Complaint Authority, a watchdog panel born from the riots that followed the police shooting of an unarmed black man in 2001, is looking into the death.
"We turn to you for a full and fair and thorough investigation," Mayor Charlie Luken told members Monday night. The U.S. Justice Department also was studying the case.
The cause of Jones' death was under investigation. Preliminary autopsy results showed he had an enlarged heart, and his blood contained cocaine and PCP, or "angel dust," both of which can cause erratic behavior, Hamilton County Coroner Carl Parrott said.
Monday night's regular meeting of the complaint panel was disrupted by four activists who demanded quick action.
"It's apparent that you don't know what you're supposed to be doing and what your authority is," said Nate Livingston Jr., a member of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, which promotes a boycott of the city.
"When they start fighting in the streets, you'll say, 'Why didn't you do it the right way? Why didn't you come to City Hall? Why didn't you trust us? Why didn't you talk to us?"
Police were called to escort Livingston and three others from the room when they continued to shout at the panel.
History Repeating Itself?
Jones' death raised new allegations of police brutality, just as the city was starting to recover from the effects of the April 2001 riots and the boycott that followed.
Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez said information was being gathered to determine if federal action was warranted.
Emergency personnel were sent to the restaurant early Sunday after a report of a man passed out on the grass. They told a dispatcher the man was "becoming a nuisance" and police were sent.
The first two officers to arrive, Baron Osterman and James Pike, were shown on the videotape striking Jones after he ignored orders, took a swing at an officer and put his arm around an officer's neck.
The officers knocked Jones to the ground and fell on him, and jabbed or struck him with nightsticks at least a dozen times. Police procedure is to avoid hitting a suspect on the head. They kept yelling "Put your hands behind your back!" as they struggled to handcuff him.
Additional police officers arrived. They rolled Jones onto his back and one officer was heard saying: "He's still got a pulse. I don't see him breathing."
Jones died within minutes after an ambulance took him to a hospital, Assistant Chief Richard Janke said.
All six officers who went to the scene — five whites and one black — were placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
The 2001 riots stemmed from the shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19, who was wanted on several misdemeanor charges and fled when police tried to arrest him. Officer Stephen Roach shot him in a dark alley and was later cleared at trial of criminal charges.
A federal investigation of the shooting, requested by the city, resulted in an agreement to tighten policies on use of force and improve handling of civilian complaints.
In February, a white officer chased and fatally shot a black man who had been seen running from a store that had been broken into. Police, prosecutors and the Citizen Complaint Authority concluded the shooting was justified because the man was beating the officer with his nightstick.