Police Showed Proper Restraint In the Scuffle, Experts Believe
By Barry M. Horstman
Post staff reporter

December 2, 2003

To some civil rights groups, the death of Nathaniel Jones after he was subdued by repeated blows from nightsticks is yet another example of unchecked police brutality.

The 41-year-old, 350-pound black man from Northside was unarmed.

But independent experts on the use of force by police gave another view: Jones attacked first, and the arresting officers seemed to exercise proper restraint by using nightsticks rather than guns and by striking at Jones' torso and limbs rather than at his head.

"There needs to be a thorough investigation of this case, but police do have a right to defend themselves," said Stephen Richards, a criminal justice professor at Northern Kentucky University.

Jones died early Sunday morning after his confrontation with police outside a White Castle in Avondale. A manager at the restaurant had called 911 for paramedics about 5:45 a.m., saying a man was passed out on the grass outside. Once the paramedics arrived, they reported that Jones was awake and "becoming a nuisance." They called police, who arrived about 6 a.m.

From that point, video cameras in police cruisers caught most of the encounter on tape. The tapes, released to the media on Monday, have been posted on websites and broadcast on local and national television. In them, Jones ignores orders to back off and instead charges an officer, who is white, hurling insults and taking swings.

Falling to the ground, Jones continues to resist. Officers jab and club him with their nightsticks, all the while telling him to put his hands behind his back. Once Jones in subdued and cuffed, the officers stop hitting him. Shortly afterward, with more officers arriving, concerns about whether Jones is breathing or has a pulse are voiced.

Why Jones died is not yet known.

Preliminary autopsy results from the Hamilton County coroner's office revealed that cocaine and phencyclidine -- PCP, often called "angel dust" -- were found in his body. That perhaps explains the erratic behavior that some of the first officers to respond to a call about a disorderly man thought suggested mental illness.

Although the autopsy found bruises on Jones's right calf, right thigh, right buttock and right flank, presumably from the blows from the officers' nightsticks, the preliminary report said there was "no evidence of transmission of force to internal organs.'' The coroner also found that Jones, who was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed nearly 350 pounds, had an enlarged heart consistent with hypertensive heart disease.

With the cause of death to be determined later and official investigations just beginning, the final word on the death of Jones while in police custody is weeks if not months away. But most every expert consulted Monday said the videotape appears to record an arrest by the book.

"What the public needs to understand is that once someone resists arrest and reacts physically to police, the procedure is that police need to take whatever steps are within reason to restrain that person," said Frank Cullen, a University of Cincinnati professor of criminal justice.

"To do that is sometimes going to involve violence. When violence starts, it's not going to be a very pleasing picture to the public."

Cullen said the community has little understanding of what constitutes proper use of force by police.

"People might ask, 'Why keep hitting the guy? He doesn't have a gun? Do you really need to hit him with those nightsticks?''' Cullen said.

"That's where there's a different view of things between the public and police. The police are thinking, 'If we don't restrain this guy quickly, he might grab our guns. The police view is that once force starts, it is applied to the point where the suspect is restrained. For instance, when police shoot, they don't shoot to wound. They shoot to stop the person. They don't aim for an arm or a leg to wound the person. They aim for the chest."

Even repeated baton strikes to a big man like Jones might not have much of an effect, said Thomas Aveni, a member of the Police Policy Studies Council and a New Hampshire police officer.

"I can't describe how ineffective batons usually are against large people," Aveni said.

"I've struck guys half that size with batons and it literally had no effect on them. Being hit with a baton tends to look worse on video than it is in reality."

Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Columbia, Mo., said the standard for police force, as outlined in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, is that it should be "objectively reasonable."

"It means there can't be punitive force," Lyman said.

"It has to be reasonable force. It has to be fair. In this case, the huge size and behavior of this man would be factors in determining 'objectively reasonable' force. It seems appropriate that police would use their sticks in this case."

James Frank, a UC criminal justice professor, agreed.

"When you think of some other options -- hitting him over the head or using a gun -- it would seem the officers selected a technique that normally would be non-lethal," Frank said.

Although those who defend or question the officers' actions may agree on little else, they probably concur with Frank's observation that the videotape likely will be interpreted differently by different people.

"People tend to see things that confirm their beliefs," Frank said.

Mayor Charlie Luken and others at City Hall came to the defense of the arresting officers. Luken said Jones' sheer bulk made his lunging body a "deadly weapon." But both in Cincinnati and across the country, calls for investigations spread Monday.

Not satisfied with the three local investigations already planned -- one by an independent citizen review panel and two within the Police Department -- the local chapter of the NAACP announced it would conduct its own probe into a death that chapter president Calvert Smith described as "the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.''

In Chicago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/Push Coalition called for state and federal investigations.

"There seems to be a pattern of excessive force by the Cincinnati Police Department, before and after the uprising of two years ago,'' Jackson said in a statement. "Police officers have options available to immobilize citizens short of death.''

And in Washington, U.S. Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez said that officials are "in the process of gathering information and evidence to determine if any federal action is warranted.''

Autopsy finds cocaine, PCP

The Hamilton County Coroner's office preliminary autopsy on Nathaniel Jones showed that cocaine and the drug phencyclidine -- PCP, or "angel dust'' -- were in his body.

There were bruises on his right calf, right thigh, right buttock and right flank, although no evidence of transmission of force to internal organs from the blows by police batons.

Jones' heart was markedly enlarged, consistent with hypertensive heart disease.

Post staff reporter Stephenie Steitzer contributed to this story.

Jones Told Not to Resist 16 Times
December 2, 2003

By Barry M. Horstman
Post staff reporter

Cincinnati police officers ordered Nathaniel Jones to stop resisting arrest and place his hands behind his back at least 16 times before, while and after they repeatedly struck him with their nightsticks in an effort to subdue him, videotape of the fatal confrontation shows.

The videotape, from cameras in multiple police cruisers that responded to the deadly encounter, is the critical piece of evidence in various investigations into yet another controversy that threatens to unravel the halting progress made in police-community relations in the 2 years since riots erupted on Cincinnati's streets, and that has once again placed the city in an unflattering national and international spotlight.

Although the investigations center on whether police officers responded properly or excessively when the 350-pound Jones lunged and swung at them, the videotapes strongly suggest that the Cincinnati Fire Department also will face tough questions -- in particular, why fire paramedics who initially responded to a 911 call for medical aid left after police arrived.

When police officers realized that Jones, by then handcuffed on the ground, was not breathing, one glanced around, hoping to wave over the fire paramedics, only to be surprised to see that the fire truck had left, the videotape shows.

"Where'd they go?'' one police officer asked.

"Are those firemen helping him or are they going to bail?'' another asked.

"They bailed. They were just here,'' the first officer responded.

A few seconds later, another officer said disgustedly: "They call us, then they leave -- What a bunch of crap.''

Several minutes later, after police requested emergency medical assistance, a fire truck returned to the scene and its paramedics began treating Jones, who was pronounced dead shortly later at University Hospital. It is unclear from the videotape whether that truck was the same one that had left minutes earlier, or a different unit.

Chief Fred Prather, a spokesman for Fire Department, said Monday he is uncertain why firefighters and paramedics left the scene. That will be the subject of an internal investigation, he said.

On the issue of the delay in getting medical treatment for Jones, police also will have some explaining to do based on their actions -- or, more accurately, inaction -- on the videotape.

After detecting a pulse but noticing that Jones was not breathing after officers rolled him over onto his back, a half dozen officers stood around the 41-year-old Northside man for about two minutes without administering CPR or other first aid.

"Sir? Sir? Sir?'' one officer standing over Jones said repeatedly, trying unsuccessfully to get a response.

"C'mon, big 'un,'' another officer said.

The Fire Department's departure and the police officers' failure to attempt resuscitation efforts before paramedics returned are among the questions raised Monday by an American Civil Liberties Union advisory panel to the landmark 2002 collaborative agreement that altered police use of force policies and established new procedures governing how allegations of police misconduct are investigated.

There will be at least four probes into Sunday's fatal incident, and more could be announced later this week. The Citizen Complaint Authority, the independent investigative body spawned by the 2002 pact, the police department's homicide and the police internal affairs sections will examine the case, and the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP said Monday that it will conduct its own investigation. Other agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department, are reviewing the case before deciding whether to perhaps launch additional inquiries.

The debate at this early stage is breaking along familiar and predictable lines.

Police brass and some city officials defend the officers' actions as a justified, by-the-book response to a dangerous situation primarily of Jones's making.

While urging Cincinnatians and others to reserve judgment pending the investigations, Mayor Charlie Luken Monday offered at least preliminary support for the officers.

"These officers were assaulted, the assault was violent and they responded with the training they received," Luken said. "You could see on the tape, if you watched it, the troubled looks on their faces."

Critics, though, counter that officers could have -- and should have -- found a way to defuse a hazardous, but less than life-threatening, situation before it escalated into an episode from which one person would never walk away.

"Somehow the city of Cincinnati must find the will to end this nonsense of the death of African-American citizens in the process of and/or after being arrested by the Cincinnati Police Department,'' Cincinnati NAACP President Calvert Smith told a news conference.

The dramatic footage on the videotape gives both sides ammunition in that contentious battle.

When officers arrived on the scene outside a White Castle in Avondale shortly before 6 a.m. Sunday, responding to a call about a disruptive man, Jones clearly was the aggressor, the videotapes released Monday show.

The intiial 911 call had sought aid for an unconscious man, but when fire paramedics arrived, they found Jones both conscious and disruptive, prompting dispatchers to request police assistance. Preliminary results from an autopsy by the Hamilton County coroner's office showed that both cocaine and PCP, or so-called "angel dust,'' were in Jones's system at the time, perhaps accounting for the strange, aggressive behavior that officers viewed as a possible sign of mental illness, leading them to request backup from an officer specially trained in handling mentally ill suspects.

"Tell me what's going on,'' one officer said as he approached Jones.

"White boy, red neck,'' Jones shouted back.

"Back up! Back up!'' the officer said as Jones moved toward him.

An instant later, Jones lunged forward and threw a right fist at the officer, touching off a melee in which officers James Pike and Baron Osterman wrestled Jones to the ground and began attempting to handcuff him.

Throughout that violent scuffle, officers shouted at least 16 times: "Put your hands behind your back.''

Because of Jones's heft, officers had considerable difficulty handcuffing him. "This ain't going to work,'' one officer said. The task was accomplished only after four additional officers arrived and helped restrain Jones.

Jones can be heard moaning loudly during the struggle. "Ow, ow!'' he bellowed at one point.

If those are the key moments on the videotape that police defenders will point to, critics will focus on the extensive scenes showing officers pummeling Jones with their nightsticks. Alternately wielding their batons like a baseball bat or using them to violently prod Jones on his torso, buttocks and legs, the officers struck Jones more than 30 times in the portions of the struggle caught on the police cruisers' video cameras.

Coroner rules Cincinnati death a homicide

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 Posted: 9:04 PM EST (0204 GMT)

Dr. Carl Parrott, coroner, gives his report on the death of Nathaniel Jones.

CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- The Hamilton County coroner Wednesday said the violent struggle over the weekend between 350-pound Nathaniel Jones and Cincinnati police officers was the immediate cause of the man's death and said his death will be ruled a homicide.

Dr. Carl Parrott noted that Jones was obese, had an enlarged heart, and had ingested PCP and cocaine hours before the incident with police. Parrott said superficial bruises consistent with nightstick injuries were on his body.

Parrott said Jones' death being ruled a homicide doesn't imply hostile or malign behavior. The coroner's office said Tuesday that Jones had bruises on his legs but no sign of injuries to his internal organs.

He said Jones' death "must be regarded as a direct and immediate consequence, in part, of the struggle, plus his obesity, heart disease, and drug intoxication." He said Jones had several lethal health problems when the confrontation happened. The struggle caused cardiac dysrhythmia, which was the ultimate physical cause of death, but he stressed the event precipitating his death was the struggle.

He added, "Absent the struggle, however, Mr. Jones would not have died at that precise moment of time."

New video released Tuesday showed Jones dancing and marching around the White Castle restaurant and in the parking lot before officers arrived on the scene.

Later, he fell down and rolled down a hill. Restaurant employees called the fire department at 5:45 a.m. to report his bizarre behavior.

The tape also shows another view of the altercation with police, and Jones is seen lunging at one officer, as he also is shown on the squad car videotape.

Jones died at a hospital shortly after police beat him with metal nightsticks to subdue him.

Police later found about a third of a gram of powdered cocaine and two cigarettes dipped in PCP, or "angel dust," in Jones' car, the coroner's office said Tuesday.

"Each of these drugs is a central nervous system stimulant and has been associated in some cases with bizarre and violently aggressive behavior," the statement said.

The case has stirred fears in metropolitan Cincinnati, where the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in 2001 sparked three nights of rioting. Five of the officers involved in the altercation with Jones were white and one was black.

Members of Jones' family Wednesday denounced the officers' actions and said they could have restrained themselves. They called for an independent investigation.

African-American leaders are calling for a full investigation into the incident, and have called on Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. to resign.

The police, the FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are gathering information on the incident.

Police have placed the six officers involved on administrative leave, as is standard in cases where a suspect dies in police custody. The Citizen Complaint Authority, created after the 2001 riots, also is looking into the incident.
Police chief defends officers

Tuesday, Chief Streicher said the police videotape of the incident indicates the officers acted properly.

"Officers came under attack. At one point, they're defending themselves. At another point, a transition is made to where they are trying to arrest a person for a felony act of violence. ... Certainly, the standard for use of force in the United States is that the officers can use force to defend themselves and/or to overcome resistance to arrest," Streicher said. (CNN Access: Cincinnati police chief)

"These things take a tremendous toll on the officers," Streicher said, noting the widespread media attention.

The video camera was rolling when police arrived at the scene, but there was a brief gap in the tape.

Streicher said the camera automatically shuts off when the police cruisers are parked. That's done to avoid the running down the car's battery.

The camera can be turned on by a remote control on an officer's belt, and that's what might have happened as the situation escalated.

"If so, I think it was a very wise decision on the part of the officers," he said.
Police recount incident

Police gave this account of the altercation:

When paramedics arrived, they found Jones and a woman, who was in some sort of medical distress. Jones then regained consciousness and began acting strangely.

At that point, following standard procedure, the fire officials called police.

A police videotape shows a squad car arriving at the restaurant at 5:58 a.m., at which point the recording device was switched off. (Account of video)

During the next few moments, which are not visible on tape, the two officers from the squad car approached Jones in the parking lot of the restaurant.

The tape resumes rolling at 6 a.m. An officer is heard saying to Jones, "You got to tell me what's going on."

Jones then says, "White boy, redneck," and the tape shows him lunging at the officer and attempting to put him in a headlock.

At that point, the two officers -- both of whom are white -- wrestle Jones to the ground and use their metal nightsticks, appearing to strike him around the shoulders and torso numerous times and yelling repeatedly, "Put your hands behind your back!"

Soon after, four more officers arrive, and an apparent reference to pepper spray is heard on the tape.

The view of Jones, who is being subdued on the pavement in front of the squad car, is obscured from the camera, which is mounted on the dashboard of the police car.

At this point, what sounds like "Help!" is heard coming repeatedly from the pile of men. It becomes progressively fainter with each utterance.

A few minutes later, one officer asks for paramedics.

"He's got a pulse; he's just not breathing," the man says of Jones.

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