On the Off Chance the Feds Will Help

The county might be done dealing with the 2000 death of Roger Owensby Jr. in police custody, but Councilman Christopher Smitherman has received word that the federal government still is investigat

Mar 2, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes/photopresse.com

Ted Jackson (standing) briefs volunteers in the successful campaign to repeal Article 12 of the city charter. Now Jackson is leading a local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans.

The county might be done dealing with the 2000 death of Roger Owensby Jr. in police custody, but Councilman Christopher Smitherman has received word that the federal government still is investigating. Newly installed Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters had declined Smitherman's call to retry Robert Jorg, whose trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter ended with a deadlocked jury. But in a Feb. 15 response to Smitherman's similar request to the Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Attorney Greg Lockhart said he recently met with Deters to hear his reasoning. Lockhart also set up a meeting between Deters and the attorney leading the DOJ investigation.

Though the DOJ won't usually comment on pending investigations, Lockhart told Smitherman that his office, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division and the FBI have all looked into the Owensby case.

"I have forwarded your letter to the Civil Rights Division and I am encouraging them to give it close attention as they continue their complete and thorough review of the situation," Lockhart wrote. "Once their inquiry is complete, they will either recommend federal prosecution or they will decline to prosecute."

Smitherman was ecstatic.

"The fact that the federal government responded at all is a good thing because we've had no visibility as to what they're doing," he said. "The Owensbys are overwhelmed, This has given them tremendous hope."

But if past practice is any indication, that hope might be misplaced. County Commissioner Todd Portune had asked the feds to step in more than a year ago.

It's also worth remembering that one of the most blatant cases of police violence — the "drive-by" police wounding of a 7-year-old girl and a schoolteacher on the day of Timothy Thomas' funeral in 2001 — elicited a lame, if candid, excuse from the U.S. Attorney's office: The political atmosphere in Cincinnati "wouldn't allow" for the conviction of a police officer on civil rights charges (see "Firing on Children," issue of April 19-25, 2001).

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Wild Oats Natural Foods for the firing of union organizer Tom Kappas. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has been struggling to reinstate Kappas for the past seven months in a campaign aimed at restoring fairness to how the company deals with union organizing (see "Progress Against Unions," issue of July 28-Aug. 3, 2004). The campaign has turned out several nationwide pickets and a petition with more than 500 supporters.

The company claimed it had fired Kappas for discounting less than 2 pounds of rotten produce. Kappas argued the produce manager had given him permission to discount spoiled produce for employees and produced a receipt.

Kappas says he will settle with the company out of court if Wild Oats provides for lost wages over the past seven months. If the company settles out of court, Kappas won't return to work to organize but plans on using this experience to educate workers about gaining respect and fairness in the workplace.

The IWW had been organizing at the store for better working conditions for more than a year. Over the course of the campaign, workers saw an increase in the amount of grievances being remedied and received substantial pay increases and promotions, according to the union.

Political Oddities and Outright Jokes
It's shocking but true: There really are gay and lesbian Republicans! In fact, they have their own little club, the Log Cabin Republicans. A local chapter has organized and meets Friday at Carol's On Main Downtown for a party.

"Log Cabin Republicans is the nation's largest organization uniting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons and fair-minded allies for change within the Republican Party," says Ted Jackson, president of the local chapter. Jackson was one of the leaders of Citizens to Restore Fairness, the organization that led the successful drive to repeal Article 12 last year.

Log Cabin was founded to battle the nation's first anti-gay ballot measure, California's Proposition 6 in 1978. For more information, visit www.logcabin.org/ct/ ndAJE691TPx7/Cincinnati-Log-Cabin.

If the notion of Republicans embracing inclusion amuses you, a speaking engagement by a top Cincinnati cop should overwhelm you with mirth. Lt. Kurt Byrd, spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department, talks Wednesday to the Cincinnati-Kharkiv Sister City Program about the Orange Revolution — the massive street demonstrations that led to the disqualification of a stolen presidential election in Ukraine. In an account published after his return from a visit to that country, Byrd spoke favorably of the Orange Revolution, in which tens of thousands of citizens peacefully surrounded government buildings and refused for several weeks to move.

If that had happened in Cincinnati, the local constables likely would have taken it as a declaration of war. They don't even like it when 7-year-old girls and schoolteachers stand peacefully on street corners after a funeral.

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