CINCINNATI – A year after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man led to rioting, the city's police union on Monday approved a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that accused officers of harassing blacks on the basis of their race.
A separate vote Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit against the city last year, was all that was needed to send the tentative settlement to a federal judge. The deal must be approved by all parties and U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, who will hold a hearing in about a month.
Scott Greenwood, general council for the ACLU in Ohio, said Monday night that the vote by the group's board of directors was not complete and probably would be announced Tuesday. Dlott has ordered all parties to inform her of their vote by close of business Tuesday.
Fraternal Order of Police officials said Monday the lawsuit's allegations were false, but that the union joined in the settlement negotiations and endorsed the deal to have a voice in shaping it under the federal court-supervised mediation.
"We don't do it, we haven't done it, we never will do it," Roger Webster, president of FOP Queen City Lodge No. 69, said of the racial-profiling allegations.
He said he expects recordkeeping of police-community interactions during the five-year agreement to conclusively show that Cincinnati police do not illegally single out blacks. Webster also said the settlement is good for the union because it requires city officials and those who sued to be accountable along with police for fighting crime and improving police-community relations.
"There's nothing in this particular document that we cannot live with," Webster said.
Union-represented Cincinnati officers approved the settlement by 62 percent to 38 percent — 324 votes for and 201 against — to commit the city's 1,000-officer police force to the deal.
The City Council unanimously approved the settlement Friday, after the Cincinnati Black United Front had endorsed it.
"I think this agreement is exactly what the community needed," Alphonse Gerhardstein, a lawyer for the black plaintiffs, said Monday. "Everybody got something out of it."
The city's worst racial unrest in decades erupted after a white police officer shot and killed Timothy Thomas, 19, a black man who fled police on misdemeanor charges April 7, 2001, and encountered the officer in a dark alley. The rioting lasted three nights, quelled only by a citywide curfew. Officer Stephen Roach was acquitted of charges in the shooting.
The City Council on Friday also approved a separate agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice accepting recommendations for improving police operations. Attorney General John Ashcroft is to sign the agreement Friday in Cincinnati, Mayor Charlie Luken said Monday.
The Justice Department recommended changes to tighten policies governing use of force, enhance training and improve recordkeeping. The agreement also commits Cincinnati to create a new, independent agency to investigate citizen complaints of police brutality.
The lawsuit settlement incorporates many of the government's recommendations.
The mayor requested the federal investigation after the shooting of Thomas.
On Sunday, hundreds of black activists — some chanting "black power" and raising their fists — attended a downtown rally and marched to City Hall and police headquarters to remember Thomas on the anniversary of his death. Police said the crowd remained generally orderly, and there were no arrests.
City and business leaders say that much has been done in the past year to improve education and job opportunities for blacks, including employment training programs, funding to revitalize poor neighborhoods and conversion of an inner-city high school to train youths in computer skills valued by businesses.
But black activists say they will continue a boycott of Cincinnati until the city holds police officers accountable in deaths of black men, reaches financial settlements with the victims' families and funds economic enterprise zones to help business startups in poor neighborhoods.