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Published: Tuesday, 7/29/2008

Opening statements begin in Lima police shooting case

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Lima police sergeant who fatally shot an unarmed woman and wounded her infant son during a drug raid fired without a clear view of his target, prosecutors said Tuesday.

In opening statements in Allen County Common Pleas Court, special prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh said Sgt. Joe Chavalia’s problem was "target identification."

"When an officer is going to pull the trigger, he needs to know what he’s shooting at," the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Bill Kluge disputed that theory, saying police officers conducting high-risk raids often don’t have time to scrutinize their surroundings.

When Sgt. Chavalia heard other officers in the house firing at two pit bull dogs, he mistakenly believed that the figure at the top of the stairs was firing at him, Mr. Kluge said.

"These decisions are made in milliseconds, I mean milliseconds," he said.

The defense attorney blamed the death of Tarika Wilson and the wounding of her 1-year-old son, Sincere, on the woman’s boyfriend, Anthony Terry, who was the raid’s target.

"Joe Chavalia shouldn’t be in here," he said. "You know who caused the death of Tareka Wilson? Anthony Terry. And who caused the injury to Sincere Wilson? Anthony Terry. And who caused Joe to be in here? Anthony Terry. But it ain’t Anthony Terry [who’s here], it's one of the finest police officers Lima has."

The shootings occurred at about 8:15 p.m. on Jan. 4 as SWAT officers conducted a "no-knock" search at Wilson's Third Street home. Officers previously had made several undercover drug buys from Terry, whom they had observed coming and going from the house. Police conduct "no-knock" searches to prevent drug suspects from disposing of evidence, which often occurs if officers announce themselves before entering.

Article appeared in earlier editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

Jury chosen for officer in Lima shooting

LIMA, Ohio After a full day of questioning, a jury of four white men and four white women was seated yesterday to decide the fate of a Lima police sergeant charged with shooting a biracial woman and her young son during a drug raid.

Joseph Chavalia, 52, is charged with negligent homicide stemming from the Jan. 4 death of Tarika Wilson, 26, and negligent assault for the wounding of 1-year-old Sincere Wilson. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Attorneys representing Sergeant Chavalia had asked that the 30-year police veteran s trial be moved out of town due to extensive media coverage the case attracted and the community reaction that followed. Wilson was biracial; Sergeant Chavalia is white.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some blacks and whites complained they did not trust Lima police, and some accused police of unfairly targeting African-Americans. Blacks make up 26.4 percent of the city s population of 40,081 people.

Visiting Judge Richard Knepper, a former Lucas County Common Pleas judge who retired from the Ohio s 6th District Court of Appeals, ruled that an attempt first had to be made to seat a jury in Allen County Common Pleas Court. By 4:30 p.m. that had been accomplished.

It took 40 minutes more to select two alternate jurors two women: one black and one white.

Special Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh, whose questions to pro-spective jurors focused largely on their perceptions of police, declined to comment afterward on the make-up of the jury.

Defense attorney Bill Kluge said he was highly satisfied with the panel. He said he had expected it to take two to three days to seat a jury but Judge Knepper just kept us moving right along.

Judge Knepper, Mr. Strausbaugh, and Mr. Kluge all asked prospective jurors whether they had heard much about the case all of them had and whether they d formed opinions about it most had. Repeatedly, the men and women were asked if they could set aside what they d heard or thought about the case, listen to the evidence and testimony presented at trial, and render an impartial verdict.

One man who was friends with a Lima police officer who took part in the raid at Wilson s Third Street home conceded that he could not. He was excused.

One woman said that she had formed opinions about the case and expressed those opinions to friends but I always qualified it with, but I don t know all the facts. She was chosen for the jury.

Mr. Strausbaugh asked whether jurors thought police officers should be held accountable if they violated the law, whether they knew anyone who had been killed or injured by a firearm, and whether they could set aside personal opinions about the fact that the victim in the case lived with a man wanted by police.

Mr. Kluge asked whether potential jurors could acquit an officer if an expert on police raids testified that Sergeant Chavalia had done everything correctly. He asked them how they would act if police came to their house with a search warrant and ordered them to get on the floor.

Mr. Kluge asked one juror what she would think if Sergeant Chavalia did not take the witness stand in his defense, and then told her that the defendant would in fact be taking the stand.

Five blacks were among the 50 or so prospective jurors who reported for jury duty. All were selected from the list of registered voters in the county.

During the selection process, two black women were questioned directly for a spot on the jury one was excused because Mr. Kluge was representing a family member of hers in an active criminal case, while the other was dismissed by Mr. Kluge after she talked about a prior negative experience she had with Lima police.

Mr. Kluge said afterward that asking the court to dismiss the woman as a juror was not a racial thing. It had more to do with her attitude about the Lima police department.

He told the jury pool that he knew that when people in the community talk about the case they bring up racial attitudes in Lima.

This trial is not a racial issue. This trial should not be a racial issue, Mr. Kluge said. We know Tarika Wilson is black. We know Joe Chavalia is white. We don t want you to look at the case like that.

Fifth Ward City Councilman Tommy Pitts, who has been outspoken about the Wilson shooting, showed up to sit in on jury selection but was not permitted in the courtroom because of a lack of space.

Their not picking an African-American to be a part of the eight does not surprise me at all because we re dealing with Lima-Allen County, Mr. Pitts said afterward.

The victim s mother, Darla Jennings, who was waiting outside the courtroom, declined to comment on the trial but said she planned to be there every day. Opening statements are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today.

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



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