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Published: Monday, 7/28/2008

Lima police officer to begin trial in deadly drug raid

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio A veteran Lima police officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed woman during a drug raid is to go on trial today in Allen County Common Pleas Court.

Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, 52, is charged with negligent homicide and negligent assault in connection with the Jan. 4 death of Tarika Wilson and wounding of her 1-year-old son, Sincere.

Residents are hoping the trial will answer the lingering question of why Sergeant Chavalia pulled the trigger and fired at Wilson, who was holding her son at the time.

The sergeant s attorney, Bill Kluge, said the trial should answer that question and more.

Not only will the community learn about that, they will learn about what it s like to be a SWAT officer in that type of situation, Mr. Kluge said.

What is viewed as a threat to civilians and what a civilian might do must be put in juxtaposition to an officer on the most dangerous raid he can be on and what he considers a threat.

You will hear an awful lot about that, Mr. Kluge said.

Lima police were conducting a no knock search at Wilson s Third Street home about 8:15 p.m. Jan. 4. They had made several undercover drug buys from Wilson s boyfriend, Anthony Terry, who they had observed coming and going from the house.

During the raid, SWAT officers shot two pit bulls that were inside and arrested Terry for possession of drugs.

Wilson, who was upstairs with her six children, was shot to death and her son was wounded in the hand by the gunfire. Police have never said what prompted Sergeant Chavalia to fire.

The incident focused attention on Lima, where some residents accused police of unfairly targeting African-Americans.

About a month after the shooting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with community leaders in Lima and declared the shooting of the biracial woman by a white police officer unnecessary force, excessive, and illegal.

Jason Upthegrove, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, predicted it would be difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction in the case and said that even if Sergeant Chavalia is found guilty, the penalty will not be severe.

The charges are misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of eight months in jail.

Still, Mr. Upthegrove said he does think the incident has sparked dialogue that will lead to change in Lima.

I think the city certainly has made progress. People are communicating. People are talking, he said.

The issue of unfairness and racism and discrimination is a reality and if people aren t talking about it, that cancer continues to grow. Once a problem is diagnosed the problem might have looked like it was terminal, but now it looks like there is some treatment that might at least put this into remission.

Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock, who has defended his department against charges of racial profiling, said he will be at the trial to hear firsthand what happened the night of the raid.

I think it s important for people to understand one of the reasons I want to attend is this will be first time I have heard the facts of the investigation, he said. I have not, until this time, been briefed or reviewed the investigative reports. This will be my first time to really hear what they found, to see what they concluded.

The investigation was done by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which turned its findings over to Defiance County Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh, the special prosecutor for the case. Mr. Strausbaugh presented the case to an Allen County grand jury, which indicted Sergeant Chavalia on the misdemeanors in March.

More than six months after the fatal shooting, Sergeant Chavalia remains on paid leave.

Lima police asked the Montgomery County Sheriff s Office in Dayton to conduct an internal investigation of the shooting to determine if the officer violated any departmental policies

Chief Garlock said that investigation will not be completed until the trial is concluded so that Montgomery County can have access to the BCII reports.

The officer-involved shooting also prompted an inquiry by the FBI to determine whether any civil rights violations occurred. FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said the agency also is waiting until the criminal trial is concluded before turning its findings over to the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney s Office in Toledo and Cleveland.

Visiting Judge Richard Knepper, a former Lucas County Common Pleas judge who retired from Ohio s 6th District Court of Appeals, has set aside two weeks for the trial, which is to begin with jury selection this morning.

Although Mr. Kluge requested a change of venue because of the extensive media coverage, attempts will be made to seat the jury in Allen County.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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