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VICTIM OFFERS FORGIVENESS

Ottawa Hills police shooting case ends in plea agreement

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    Former Ottawa Hills Police Officer Thomas White stands at a hearing related to his shooting in 2009 of a motorcyclist. Peter Galyardt, a state public defender, sits next to him.

    THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
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    Michael McCloskey, who was shot and paralyzed by former Ottawa Hills Police Officer Thomas White in a 2009 traffic stop in the village, addresses the court while holding a King James Bible. Mr. McCloskey said he has forgiven the officer and is at peace.

    THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
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From his wheelchair in a Lucas County courtroom Thursday, Michael McCloskey didn’t mince words: He forgave the former police officer who shot and paralyzed him in 2009 and gave his blessing to a plea agreement that ended the case.

“I forgive this man sincerely,” Mr. McCloskey said after a half-hour, one-on-one meeting with Thomas White before the hearing. “The talk that we had in that room — everything [negative] was left in that room. We prayed over that ... and that our families can get forgiveness too.”

Mr. White, who was looking at a second trial on a more serious charge of felonious assault for shooting Mr. McCloskey in the back during a traffic stop, pleaded no contest to assault, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Cook accepted his plea and found him guilty, but not before making sure it was what Mr. McCloskey wanted.

“Is this what you desire to have occur in your case?” the judge asked him.

“Yes. One hundred percent,” Mr. McCloskey responded.

As part of a plea agreement, Mr. White, 34, of Marion, Ohio, was given a suspended 90-day jail term and placed on probation for a year. He also was ordered to surrender his peace officer certificate.

Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, told the court that the resolution came at the request of Mr. McCloskey.

“He said that he wanted to move forward with his life. He wanted to forgive Mr. White for what had happened and asked if we could resolve the case,” Mr. Lingo said. “We spoke at length with him in regards to this matter. He was very much at peace, as he is now, with his decision.”

Judge Cook, who presided over Mr. White’s 2010 jury trial in which a dashboard camera video showing the shooting was played over and over, noted how good Mr. McCloskey was looking.

Mr. McCloskey told the court he owed it to God and the peace he’d found through the King James Bible, which he clutched in his hand throughout the proceeding.

“I can cry with a smile now, knowing the truth, and I just want to thank him for turning this testimony of me never giving up into something much more powerful and something that I pray can move mountains in people’s lives,” Mr. McCloskey said. “It’s just a wonderful gift to be able to forgive and know that the meaning of life is love, and that’s really what I came here to say.”

Judge Cook said his statement was compelling.

“It clearly shows the clarity of strength and courage to have experienced what you’ve experienced in this situation and to end up at a point where you are now,” the judge said. “You’re obviously at a place of peace and understanding of what your life will be going forward, and you clearly are embracing that challenge with the right attitude and strength.”

Mr. White’s 2010 conviction and 10-year prison sentence for felonious assault and a firearm specification was overturned by Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals — a reversal that was affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court. He was to have been retried, without the firearm specification, which the state’s high court agreed could not be imposed on a police officer acting in the line of duty.

The case, Judge Cook said, was hard on the community.

It was May 23, 2009, when then-Officer White began following two motorcycles on Indian Road just west of Secor Road, noting traffic violations that prompted him to turn on his overhead lights. When Mr. McCloskey stopped, Mr. White pulled up behind his motorcycle.

“As Officer White was radioing information in, he perceived movements by Mr. [McCloskey] to be threatening,” Mr. Lingo told the court. “He exited his car, pulled his duty weapon, and fired a single shot which severed Mr. McCloskey’s spine.”

At his 2010 trial, Mr. White testified that Mr. McCloskey had made a reaching movement with his hand that made him think he had a gun.

Mr. Lingo said Mr. McCloskey “did not have a firearm, although Mr. White believed that in looking over his right shoulder, he may have been reaching for a weapon and therefore pulled and fired his weapon.”

The misdemeanor assault charge alleges Mr. White “recklessly caused serious physical harm,” Mr. Lingo said, which is appropriate in this case.

Mr. White made no statement when given the opportunity to speak in court. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Mr. Lingo said afterward that he was prepared to retry Mr. White and believed that the state could obtain a conviction for felonious assault. Still, he conceded, the resolution proposed by Mr. McCloskey was unusual but refreshing.

“It is an excellent example of forgiveness, which a lot of times we don’t see in this job,” Mr. Lingo said.

Peter Galyardt, an assistant state public defender who represented Mr. White, said the meeting that took place between his client and Mr. McCloskey was a form of restorative justice — a way to repair the harm caused by crime that can involve face-to-face meetings between victims and offenders.

“I don’t know how many cases would be appropriate for this, but it’s certainly more than zero, and this is a good example,” he said.

Mr. McCloskey said afterward that his faith had brought him healing — a message he wants to spread.

“My pain has left my body,” he said. “... He has healed me. He has healed my spinal cord. I am getting sensations in my legs that I have never felt. And I will stand and I will walk in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it will be his timing and his timing is always so perfect.”

In 2012, Mr. McCloskey settled a civil lawsuit filed against the village of Ottawa Hills for $5 million, which included payments for medical expenses.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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