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Published: Wednesday, 10/31/2012

Need for change

An unarmed motorcyclist, shot by an Ottawa Hills police officer during a 2009 traffic stop, settled a civil suit this month for $5 million — including payment of his medical expenses — after the shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down. The agreement should not close the book for Ottawa Hills, which has made no special effort to reform its police department after the shooting, despite previous complaints from other visitors about unfair treatment.

On May 23, 2009, Michael McCloskey, 25, was shot in the back by Ottawa Hills Officer Thomas White while he was stopped on his motorcycle. The incident was recorded on dashboard-camera video in Mr. White’s patrol vehicle and played for a jury that convicted him in May, 2010, of felonious assault. Mr. White, 29, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The video showed Mr. White following Mr. McCloskey and a friend, both of whom are white, for several blocks. Just after 2 a.m., Mr. White initiated a stop and called for help, after the two men sped from a stop sign. Mr. White pulled his firearm as he got out of his car. He shot Mr. McCloskey in the back after the motorcyclist turned to look behind him.

Mr. White testified he believed Mr. McCloskey was pulling a gun when he turned. But the video disputed that version — another example of why all police vehicles should have such cameras.

Village Administrator Marc Thompson told The Blade’s editorial page this week that the police department had initiated no special training or other measures in response to the shooting. “We’re always looking at ways to improve our training and professionalism,” he said.

Since the shooting, officers have had routine training on when — and when not to — shoot, but “that would have been done anyway,” Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. White does not in any way typify the mostly dedicated and professional officers of the Ottawa Hills Police Department. Even so, Mr. McCloskey’s shooting isn’t the first incident to raise questions about police practices in the affluent village. Incidents in 1998 and 2006 involving African-Americans cost the village $225,000 and some bad publicity.

At issue is not just race or motorcycles, but the general treatment of people who might be regarded as different in Ottawa Hills. To ensure fairness and professionalism, the village needs to shore up training, not only on when to shoot but also on how to deal with a diverse population. It might benefit from cross-training with the Toledo Police Department.

Ottawa Hills should also review its personnel policies to help ensure that high-risk personalities are kept off the police force. Mr. White’s failure to accept responsibility for his actions, his lack of remorse and even defiance during his trial, pose troubling questions about Ottawa Hills’ decision to promote him.

After a tragic shooting and a hefty $5 million settlement, business as usual isn’t good enough for the people who live in Ottawa Hills, or those who visit it.



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