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Published: Thursday, 6/24/2010

Flagrant lack of regret

Thomas White's sentence of 10 years in prison for shooting a motorcyclist in the back during a traffic stop might appear harsh at first glance.

But the former Ottawa Hills police officer's inability to accept responsibility for his actions suggests the sentence was more than fair.

The May 23, 2009, shooting that left Michael McCloskey, Jr., paralyzed was captured by the dashboard camera of White's patrol vehicle.

That video evidence proved particularly damning at trial. Jury members needed only six hours to decide that White was guilty of felonious assault with a gun specification.

Yet, even as he was about to be sentenced this week, White defended the shooting, saying "no amount of punishment or rehabilitation" would have changed his decision that night. "I did what I was required to do by law and by my oath as a peace officer."

White offered no apology to the man he left paralyzed from the waist down. Instead, he shook his head in apparent disagreement when Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Cook said he had fired his weapon too quickly.

As reformed alcoholics, former smokers, ex-abusers, and others know, acknowledging the problem is always the first step in changing behavior.

As Judge Cook pointed out, however, White stubbornly refuses to accept any version of the events that night except his own. That makes him incapable, at least for now, of learning from this tragic incident, justifying his lengthy sentence.

But Thomas White is not alone in his guilt. He was not a rogue cop. He worked his way up from part-time dispatcher, meaning his personality and attitudes were well known to the Ottawa Hills officials who promoted him to full-time dispatcher and then part-time police officer.

White was a product of a police department that for years has been accused of being unwelcoming to blacks and others who didn't fit the village's affluent, predominantly white profile.

Just as White has to accept his mistakes before he can move forward, Ottawa Hills must acknowledge its role in encouraging that unfriendly attitude before lasting changes can be expected to take root.

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