Jury hears video of white Cincinnati officer accused of murder

By Lisa Cornwell, The Associated Press
Friday October 26, 2001

CINCINNATI — Jurors in the trial of a white police officer accused of causing a black man’s death with a choke hold heard a recording Thursday in which the officer told a supervisor he had held the man’s head during a struggle. 

“I had his head wrapped almost the whole time,” Officer Robert Jorg was heard saying on the videotape. A few seconds later Jorg said: “I was trying to hold him down.” 

The tape was recorded by a camera mounted on the police cruiser of Officer Victor Spellen, who said he drove to the scene to assist officers struggling with Roger Owensby Jr. The struggle was not captured on videotape. 

Defense attorney R. Scott Croswell has said his client did not choke Owensby and was holding his head to try to protect him from injury. 

Autopsy findings showed Owensby, 29, died from asphyxia caused by compression of the neck or chest. Death could have resulted from a choke hold or from the weight of officers holding him down, according to a deputy coroner. 

Jorg, charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor assault in Owensby’s death, is the first on-duty city police officer ever charged with a felony offense in a killing. 

Another officer, Patrick Caton, went on trial separately Wednesday on a charge of misdemeanor assault. In opening statements, prosecutor Ernest McAdams Jr. said Caton slugged Owensby after officers subdued him. 

Defense lawyer Merlyn Shiverdecker told the jurors Caton’s actions were “a permissible and lawful use of restraint and force.” 

The trials started almost a month after a judge acquitted Officer Stephen Roach in the shooting of an unarmed black man who was running from police. Timothy Thomas’ death touched off three days of rioting in April. 

Roach sat at the back of the courtroom during Jorg’s trial on Thursday. 

Fifteen black men and a 12-year-old boy have died in confrontations with Cincinnati police since 1995. Eleven of them threatened officers with weapons.