By Kimball Perry
Post staff reporter
Former Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach isn't immune from a wrongful death lawsuit because he was an officer when he shot and killed a fleeing black teen in 2001, an act that sparked rioting in Cincinnati.
That was the ruling this week of a federal judge who said a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Angela Leisure, mother of the teen, Timothy Thomas, could proceed.
U.S. District Court Judge S. Arthur Spiegel, in a Tuesday ruling, refused the request to dismiss Roach, now an Evendale police officer, as a defendant in the suit.
Leisure, representing her son's estate, filed the federal suit in May 2001, a month after Thomas -- who was unarmed and wanted on minor misdemeanor charges -- was chased through Over-the-Rhine by Roach.
Roach, in violation of Cincinnati police policies, was running with his gun pulled and his finger on the trigger when he shot and killed Thomas in a dark alley.
Charging that Thomas' killing was symptomatic of a police force that too often disrespects and mistreats black men, a group of blacks began a protest days later that exploded into riots.
The suit was filed against Roach and the city of Cincinnati, which asked the judge to throw out the suit.
Roach contended he was immune from the suit because he was doing his duty as a police officer.
"Such immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial, not a defense from liability," Spiegel noted in his ruling.
The focus of Roach's request is based on the shooting being "accidental or inadvertent," Spiegel added.
Roach, however, has given several versions of the fatal shooting at different times.
Roach has said he saw Thomas reach for his waistband, perhaps when Thomas was hitching up his pants, and suspected he was going for a gun. He also has said he accidentally fired the gun when Thomas surprised him by quickly coming around a dark corner.
The suit accuses Cincinnati police of having a longtime, tacit policy of racial discrimination against black men that contributed to Thomas' killing.
Spiegel, in considering the legal concept that the issues must be viewed in light most favorable to Thomas' estate, ruled those allegations can be part of the suit.
City officials also asked the judge to dismiss the city from the suit, claiming sovereign immunity as protection.
Spiegel has instructed both sides to prepare more in-depth legal arguments on the city's request.
Trial of the suit is set for January.