News: Roach Problem

Evendale gets a taste of Cincinnati controversy

 
Jymi Bolden


Mary Weertz (left), Lynn Watts of Evendale (center) and Judi King discuss the conflict over Stephen Roach's hiring.



The Ku Klux Klan wants the people of Evendale to stand up for the "interests and values of the white majority."

The Klan's leaflet drops are just one side effect of the hiring of Officer Stephen Roach by the Evendale Police Department.

Lynn Watts, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Evendale (CCE) and the Evendale Recreation Commission, wants the Klan to stop leaving propaganda in her neighbors' driveways. She also wants Roach off the police department.

Last week, however, the mayor of Evendale put Roach on the streets — and Watts in jail for complaining about it.

'No business being here'
The village of Evendale hired Roach in January, four months after he was acquitted of negligent homicide and obstructing official business. In April 2001 Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old man, in Over-the-Rhine.

Thomas' death set off a riot, dividing Cincinnati. Roach's hiring has likewise divided Evendale, according to Watts. Members of a local supper club are arguing over the topic at get-togethers, she says; parents are yelling at each other at their children's play dates; and a group of women changed tennis teams because they no longer want to play with members of the CCE.

Whites who oppose Roach's hiring are getting hate mail and hate calls and a black doctor received hate calls at his practice, Watts says. She says some residents have received mail saying blacks should leave Evendale and whites should not stand with them.

"Everybody can tell what side people are on," Watts says. "If you know that we feel differently when we pass each other, you're not waving at me."

Village Councilman David Harwood says some believe two camps are forming.

"I am sure it's a perception people have," he says. "Whether it's true or not is really hard to gauge."

The Klan seems to believe it.

"They're saying, "Hey, it's ripe to come in there and get some new recruits,' " Watts says.

Officers quickly removed Ku Klux Klan posters they found, according to Police Chief Gary Foust.

"We also recovered some of what the residents are complaining about as far as the pamphlets," he says. "We certainly are not supportive of the activities of that organization."

But police in Evendale are hardly fond of activists from Cincinnati criticizing the decision to hire Roach.

"What's Damon Lynch doing out here in Evendale?" says Lt. Gregg Phillips. "What is Nate Livingston doing in Evendale? They don't live here, they don't work here. They have no business being out here."

Scores were skewed
Watts says the issue is painted as a racial controversy but is much more than that.

"It's really an issue of right versus wrong — not color," she says.

Phillips, like almost all village officials, has insisted Roach was the best applicant for the job. Roach had the second highest score on a written exam, passed his physical exam and emerged as the No. 1 candidate among five finalists in an oral review by fellow police officers.

Village council's hiring committee unanimously selected Roach.

But Roach's qualifications are less impressive than village officials claim, according to Watts. For example, Roach scored 80 on the values section of the written test, placing third. But among applicants who passed the written and physical test, four scored 100 on values, three scored 90 and four besides Roach scored 80.

The values section measures "awareness of the need to treat citizens in an unbiased manner and not to compromise one's oath and high standards of conduct required as an officer." The values section also measures "belief in high standards for off duty conduct (and) being honest and not predisposed toward excessive aggression toward others." An acceptable score on that portion of the test is 71. Roach scored 80.

"He actually exceeded what the national average was," Foust says.

Information provided by the village ranked Roach first on a section of the test on perceptions of police work. But in fact, one other candidate who passed both the physical and written tests scored higher, and four others scored the same as Roach.

The village ranked Roach second on problem solving, when in fact three other candidates passing the physical and written tests scored 100 on this portion. Roach scored 94.

Roach was ranked first in general analytical skills, tied with another candidate. Roach was ranked first on social perceptions; but among candidates passing the written and physical exams, eight scored 100 on that portion of the test. Social perceptions include "an awareness and understanding of human diversity. Tolerance for those whose backgrounds or beliefs differ from one's own. Not overly relying on assumptions in assessing others' behavior. Concern for the well-being of others."

Foust says the peer review board referred five candidates to the hiring committee, without any indication of preference. Roach finished about 40 points higher on his peer oral review than the next candidate.

Prior knowledge
Last month the village placed Roach on administrative duties, following the release of an internal investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department. The report found Roach should not have had a finger on the trigger of his gun when he chased Thomas.

Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher also confirmed what many had already suspected — at least one of Roach's statements to investigators was a lie.

Foust says the report was accurate, but selective.

"Chief Streicher's report did not indicate anything in there that we didn't have prior knowledge of," Foust says.

Harwood dismisses Streicher's report as a regurgitation of the prosecution's opening statement at Roach's trial. The report was part of a "PR blitz," Harwood says, to help settle the racial profiling lawsuit against Cincinnati and to keep the peace during the anniversary of Thomas' death.

"Chief Streicher's report had no impact on me," he says.

Harwood says a tremendous amount of evidence at trial showed Roach was traumatized when talking to investigators. Memory doesn't function well during trauma, he says.

Does Harwood think Roach was untruthful?

"No, do not," he says.

Other issues in Cincinnati affected the way Roach was treated, Harwood says.

"He became a lighting rod, and probably of half a dozen cases by far and away he is least deserving or not deserving at all of being a lighting rod," he says.

Watts says the reference to trauma doesn't make sense.

"When people go through traumatic situations like that, they don't remember anything," she says. "They don't come up with elaborate detailed stories. This man lied. He lied when he was being investigated. He carries a badge. He carries a gun. He has authority over people."

'A class act kind of guy'
Foust acknowledges some Evendale residents don't believe Roach is the best choice, while others believe he deserves a chance because he was acquitted in court.

"I think you have a division as to those two camps," he says.

Watts believes village council is keeping Roach in order to save face.

"I've heard other people say, 'What kind of a precedent would that set, if we let them bully us or change our decisions?' " she says.

Evendale has 20 police officers, including Roach. Watts believes the village didn't need another officer.

"We have one officer for every 155 villagers," she says.

By comparison, the Blue Ash Police Department, serving a community of 13,500, has 37 full-time officers — one for every 365 residents.

Police in Evendale have shown their support for Roach, even to the point of signing a letter mailed to residents.

"Ours is a professed and genuine desire to do that which is just and fair," the letter said. "To that end, we state unequivocally our support of the hiring and retention of Stephen D. Roach."

On 41 daily observation reports after his hiring, Roach met or exceeded the department's requirements, according to Foust. He says he has been "very happy" with Roach's performance.

Phillips says it is time to move on and nothing new is being said by Roach's opponents.

"They've been heard," he says.

Harwood hopes the divisions in Evendale don't linger.

"Whatever the outcome is, I hope people can get beyond this issue and get back, because I think we have a very good community," he says.

On May 2, Watts was addressing council when Mayor Doug Lohmeier had her arrested for disturbing a lawful meeting. Lohmeier said Watts spoke past her time limit.

While being taken to a holding cell at the police department, Watts says, she saw Roach laughing at her. Phillips confirms Roach was on duty, but denies the allegation.

"He would never have laughed at Mrs. Watts like that," Phillips says. "He's a class act kind of guy."

The CCE is suing the village to force a referendum on the ordinance hiring Roach. The hiring was a legislative act and is subject to referendum, according to Marc Mezibov, attorney for the CCE.

"The village knew how important this was and they made a concerted effort to frustrate the people from speaking, effecting or discussing this matter — and frankly that's frightening," Mezibov says.

Watts says she will not be discouraged by resistance.

"If you cannot stand up for what is right, how are you going to look yourself in the mirror every day and keep going?" she says. "He shouldn't have been hired, because in the process of performing his duties as a police officer, he lied. I'm supposed to teach my children to trust police officers. I cannot do that if I know and they know there is this man policing the streets of Evendale and he lied." ©

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