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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2008

Toledo police chief defends pursuit of man who drowned

BY JC REINDL AND ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre yesterday continued to defend the decisions and actions of the officers involved in Thursday evening's pursuit of a 20-year-old central city man, who drowned after he jumped into Swan Creek to evade them.

But Benjamin Brewton's family and friends said the young man, who was convicted about 10 years ago of killing his cousin, was doing nothing so wrong Thursday that it would justify his death.

Officers Aaron Riter and Nicholas Bocik saw Brewton, of 59 City Park, weaving in and out of traffic about 7:50 p.m. on a bike on City Park Avenue near Greene Street.

When they approached and asked his name, he took off running. The convicted felon was on probation and was being sought on misdemeanor arrest warrants.

The officers followed as Brewton fled behind a house and near a junk yard. Then, even though he couldn't swim, he jumped into the muddy, chilly water.

Suddenly, he was in a part of the creek where the water was estimated to be about 12 feet deep. He flailed his arms and yelled for help, police said

Officers Riter and Bocik tried to help Brewton, throwing him branches for flotation. When that didn't work, they tried to swim out to rescue him.

Their efforts were to no avail. Brewton disappeared beneath the surface.

Brewton Brewton
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He was in the 60-degree water for at least 15 minutes before the Toledo Fire Department's dive team pulled him to shore unconscious. Shortly thereafter, he was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Chief Navarre emphasized that Officers Riter and Bocik, both of whom have been members of the department for about two years, did nothing wrong, and indeed went above and beyond the call of duty by trying to rescue Brewton.

"The officers do not choose the path of pursuit. The suspect determines the path of pursuit," the chief said. "Often, they choose a path they think the officers won't take."

Preliminary autopsy results yesterday indicated drowning as the cause of death, said Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a Lucas County deputy coroner.

Dr. Beisser added that there was no evidence of any trauma to Brewton's body, or broken bones, or the use of a Taser. Toxicology test results are pending.

Backtracking from earlier statements, Chief Navarre yesterday said the officers did not recognize Brewton, and that they were not chasing him because of his misdemeanor warrants.

Yet many of those who knew Brewton said yesterday that they weren't buying the police version of Thursday's events.

Marvin Jones, 41, a friend and a central city shop owner, said that those in the neighborhood know Brewton didn't mean any harm.

"A lot of people are [very angry]," Mr. Jones said. "I thought the police were supposed to protect the community. But they didn't protect him - they killed him.

"They were chasing him all over the neighborhood for a damn misdemeanor," Mr. Jones added. "Ben didn't bother nobody. He was on his way home, and they started chasing him."

Some neighbors called the death yet another example of overreaction and harassment of young black men by white officers patrolling their central city neighborhood.

"Why were they chasing him so hard that that had to happen?" asked Brian King, Brewton's cousin.

Mr. King and Mr. Jones were among a small group that gathered yesterday afternoon in front of the white weather-worn house where Brewton lived with his mother, Evelyn Pettaway, siblings, and cousins.

Ms. Pettaway declined to speak with reporters.

At the time of his death, Brewton was on probation for a 2007 felony conviction for possession and trafficking of crack cocaine, along with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to court records.

He was being sought on warrants charging him with two counts of obstructing official business and one count of providing false information to a police officer.

Brewton was 10 years old when he had his first and most serious run-in with the law.

In July, 1997, he struck his 12-year-old cousin, Tireese Glover, with a piece of fencing that he yanked from a flower garden during a disagreement.

Young Tireese was hit on the side of his face, and a small metal spike punctured the boy's skull. The cousin died in a hospital four days later.

Brewton's family blamed the incident on uncontrollable rage brought on by his attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

His mother said she had trouble getting help for her son, whom she described as slow.

Later that year, a Lucas County Juvenile Court judge found Brewton guilty of delinquency in connection with involuntary manslaughter. Too young at age 10 to be put into the juvenile system, he spent several years in group homes and private residential treatment centers.

In 2000, he entered the state detention system, and stayed in state juvenile correction facilities until August, 2002. He completed parole in 2003.

But before turning 18, he appeared again in Juvenile Court on charges ranging from delinquency in connection with grand theft auto to resisting arrest.

Among loved ones and friends, Brewton was remembered yesterday for his quick smile, easygoing nature, love of drawing, and his knack for fixing just about anything - from mopeds to house appliances.

"We Love U Ben" proclaimed a sign outside Mr. Jones' used goods shop at City Park and Greene, across from Brewton's home and near where Thursday's incident began.

Farther north, along Tecumseh Street, other friends tied a pair of blue and green balloons to a fence near a house where Brewton had once lived.

"We do it for all our dudes, anytime anything like this happens," said former neighbor Jermain Smith.

Mr. Jones said Brewton remained haunted by his actions 10 years ago that took his cousin's life. For the young man, it was a tragic and unintentional accident that he never stopped crying over.

Mr. Jones said that Brewton's mental disabilities, which affected his fluency of speech, made it tough for him to find steady employment. So instead, he would cut grass and do handyman tasks around the neighborhood.

Another friend, Quentin Carrington, 23, recalled seeing Brewton riding his bike just minutes before the confrontation with police. They were watching a pickup basketball game, and Brewton asked Mr. Carrington if he could borrow his towel to wipe sweat and bugs from his face.

Later that night, in a phone call, Mr. Carrington learned that Brewton was dead.

Chief Navarre said that the officers would have faced tough questions from him had they not pursued Brewton.

Any officer who would have allowed someone to get away in that type of situation "doesn't belong in uniform," the chief said. "That would go against the nature of being a police officer."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.


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