Cincinnati coroner rules beating death a homicide

Police, black activists angered over decision

December 04, 2003|By Stephanie Simon | Stephanie Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Cincinnati's coroner ruled yesterday that the weekend death of Nathaniel Jones was a homicide, calling it the direct result of Jones' clash with six police officers who repeatedly struck him with nightsticks as they struggled to subdue him.

The Hamilton County coroner, Dr. Carl L. Parrott Jr., quickly added that he was not implying the police had used excessive force. Calling the death a homicide, he said, "does not imply hostile or malign intent."

But the fight with officers did stress - and, ultimately, stop - Jones' heart, which was already weakened by coronary disease, high blood pressure, obesity and the effects of cocaine and PCP, Parrott said.

"Accordingly, his death must be regarded as a direct and immediate consequence of the struggle," the coroner said, explaining why he could not declare the death accidental.

The ruling infuriated police. "These officers did nothing wrong," said Roger Webster, president of the police union.

It also angered black activists, who seized on the coroner's report as proof that police brutality in Cincinnati continues unchecked, despite much-heralded reforms. Jones was the 18th black man in the past eight years to be killed while fighting or fleeing Cincinnati officers.

"We're really tired of this happening. We're hurting," said Patricia Carson, who runs a support group for mothers who have lost sons to violence on Cincinnati streets. "You'd think the city of Cincinnati would learn."

Jones was unarmed. But he weighed 350 pounds and he was behaving erratically. Mayor Charlie Luken has said that the man's bulk alone amounted to a "deadly weapon" and that the officers were right to react as though they were under potentially lethal attack when Jones lunged at them.

The struggle, which occurred about 6 a.m. Sunday, was captured by a video camera mounted in a police cruiser. Snippets of the video have been replayed on national television. But there's a 97-second gap in the tape.

When the first officers arrived at the scene, responding to a call about a disturbance at a fast-food restaurant, they switched off their lights and walked up to Jones, who was outside dancing and hollering. The camera cut off at that point.

An attorney for Jones' family suggested yesterday that the police might have provoked Jones during that unrecorded minute and a half, prompting him to take a swing at the officers.

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