NAACP To Protest Police Promotion
UPDATED, 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30
City attorneys are working on a resolution now that would condemn the promotion of a controversial police officer who was previously fired after being involved in the 2000 death of a suspect.
Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls proposed the resolution after hearing more than a dozen African-Americans urge a public statement against the promotion of Patrick Caton, who was promoted two weeks ago to sergeant.
"And I would hope," she said, "quite frankly, that the FOP and all police officers would agree" that Caton's not someone desirable for the Cincinnati police force.
The resolution, being prepared at Qualls' request, will not be presented today. Instead, she said, it will be introduced and sent through the Law and Public Safety Committee. There, she said, Chairman Cecil Thomas, a retired police officer, can hold public hearings so citizens can weigh in on changes needed in civil service law and city contract negotiations to make sure the city isn't in the position again to have to re-hire someone it tried so hard to fire.
UPDATED, 2 pm Wednesday, Jan. 30:
Cincinnati's NAACP asked City Council this afternoon to denounce the promotion of a controversial police officer and put the officer on desk duty until he undergoes two psychological evaluations.
Christopher Smitherman, president of the Cincinnati branch and a former councilman, urged supporters to pack City Council chambers before today's meeting to protest the promotion this month of Patrick Caton, an officer who was involved in the 2000 arrest death of Roger Owensby Jr. Caton, like all officers promoted from officer to sergeant, was promoted based on how well he did on a promotional exam - the only factor in such promotions.
After two Caton opponents had spoken, Mayor Mark Mallory jumped in to explain that while he and council members welcomed the NAACP's passion and opinions, there's nothing more the city can do to stop the promotion.
"I don't think there's anybody here who wants to see this promotion go through," the mayor said.
Caton was fired in 2003. The Fraternal Order of Police took the termination to arbitration in 2004, and an arbitrator said the proper punishment was a five-day suspension, not termination. The city ultimately appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. That meant a 2005 decision by the First District Court of Appeals stands. That decision upheld the arbitrator's ruling.
Jane Prendergast reports that the council chambers is packed, with at least 50 African-Americans there, though it's unclear which of them are there for the Caton protest.
Caton was charged with assault in the 2000 death of Roger Owensby Jr. , but acquitted. He and another officer, Blaine Jorg, arrested Owensby in the parking lot of a Roselawn convenience store. Minutes later, Owensby was unresponsive in the back seat of a patrol car. Caton was fired, but rehired after union arbitration.
The death prompted a lawsuit by Owensby's family, which ended with the city of Cincinnati agreeing to pay the largest settlement in city history - $6.5 million.
Here's what Smitherman's e-mail this afternoon says:
"Dear Membership and Community,
On Wednesday, January 30, 2008 please show up to City Hall regarding Officer Caton's recent promotion to Sergeant. Please get to City Hall located at 801 Plum Street by 1:00 PM so that you may fill out a speakers card and speak to the mayor, the council and the city manager about our outrage regarding the decision to promote Caton on the Martin Luther King holiday. This is the officer who murdered Roger Owensby Jr. You have 2 minutes to speak and you must turn in your card by 1:15 PM in order to do so. The other role you can play is just be present. It is unfortunate but Caton's promotion has made national news. We continue to embarrass the region and the city with these types of barbaric decisions.
See you on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 1:00 PM at City Hall."
Caton, 41, became an officer in 1997.