By Kimball Perry, Post staff reporter
Minutes after Roger Owensby Jr.'s limp body was thrown into the back seat of a police cruiser Nov. 7, a Cincinnati police officer pulled up in his cruiser and his in-car video camera captured what prosecutors say is a key piece of evidence that will help convict Cincinnati Police Officer Robert ''Blaine'' Jorg of involuntary manslaughter.
''(In that video) you'll see one particular officer appearing agitated with a billy club in his hand . . . saying, 'I had him in a head wrap the entire time.' That was Officer Jorg,'' assistant Hamilton County prosecutor Mark Piepmeier told jurors Tuesday in opening statements.
Jorg's lawyer, Scott Croswell, insists his client never had Owensby in a choke hold, did nothing wrong and should be acquitted of the charges.
If convicted, Jorg faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
''(Jorg) secured Mr. Owensby's head to protect him and keep him from flailing away,'' Croswell told jurors. ''It was a significant struggle, but not a significant fight.''
Police, at another call next door to the Sunoco store at Langdon Farm Road and Seymour Avenue, thought Owensby was the man who had run from them three weeks before. When they confronted him, he initially cooperated, a store video shows. He ran, say officers, when they tried to pat him down and handcuff him.
Testimony from the coroner - who ruled Owensby died from asphyxiation, perhaps from a choke hold or piling on - will prove how Owensby was desperately trying to get oxygen as police were trying to handcuff him, Piepmeier said.
''The struggle of Roger Owensby as he laid there with five police officers on top of him was not a struggle for his liberty. Rather, it was a struggle for his life,'' he said.
The proof of that, Piepmeier noted, was in two deep bruises to Owensby's neck and upper back, burst capillaries in his eyes indicative of oxygen deprivation and, most importantly, lung fluid found on Owensby's lips.
''When you're producing this (lung fluid),'' Piepmeier said, ''you're in the process of dying.
''There was a large area of this (lung fluid) on another object, an object that obviously had to be near the mouth of Roger Owensby. That ob ject was the left sleeve of Robert Jorg that was found in the back of (a police cruiser).''
Croswell noted that his client was a seven-year Cincinnati police officer with an exemplary record.
Despite telling jurors he wasn't going to ''malign'' Owensby during the trial, Croswell then told them how Owensby was accused of selling marijuana near the Roselawn store hours before he died, that the autopsy detected a slight trace of marijuana in his system and that Owensby had escaped from police three weeks earlier. Moreover, Croswell said, Owensby had crack cocaine - ''a five-year pass to the penitentiary'' - in his pocket when he was arrested.
''At no time did my client, Blaine Jorg, or any other Cincinnati Police Officer that I'm aware of, choke Mr. Owensby or inhibit Mr. Owensby from breathing,'' Croswell said.
Croswell noted, though, that one officer - Patrick Caton, Jorg's police partner - faces trial for striking a handcuffed Owensby as he lay prone on the back seat of a cruiser.
''Another officer struck Roger Owensby on numerous occasions and went into the cruiser after Roger Owensby was cuffed and beat him there,'' Croswell told jurors. ''That officer should be punished for that.''
Caton faces misdemeanor assault charges in his trial, which starts today.
A 19-year-old woman also testified Tuesday, saying she was at the scene that night and saw Jorg place his knee in the back of Owensby - known on the street as ''L.A.''
Owensby, she said, was face-down and had his hands under him. Jorg, in trying to get Owensby's hands free to have them cuffed, stuck his knee in Owensby's back and, using a forearm, pulled Owensby up and back toward him by the neck.