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Published: Friday, 5/14/2010

Ottawa Hills police officer guilty in traffic-stop shooting

BLADE STAFF

A jury found an Ottawa Hills police officer guilty Friday night of felonious assault with a firearms specification for a shooting during a traffic stop last year.

The case went to the jury on the fourth day of Officer Thomas White's trial for felonious assault with a firearms specification in the shooting of Michael McCloskey, Jr.

White, 27, showed no emotion, standing quietly with his attorney, Jerry Phillips, when the verdict was read about 7:20 p.m. The jury deliberated six hours on Friday before reaching a decision.

White was released on bond, pending sentencing set for 9 a.m. on June 21. White faces up to 11 years in prison.

Mr. Phillips would not comment and left the courtroom soon after the verdict was announced.

During closing arguments Friday morning, Jeff Lingo, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, contended White had no justification for shooting — and permanently paralyzing — a man for a traffic violation.

"This case is not an indictment of all police officers," Mr. Lingo said. "This case is not an indictment of a police department. It is in fact a charge that resulted from the acts of a single police officer over a period of five minutes for which he acted alone and, the state feels, he should be held responsible."

Defense attorney Jerry Phillips told jurors that it made no difference whether Mr. McCloskey had committed a traffic violation or a criminal violation, whether he had a weapon or not. He said it made no difference whether Officer's White gunshot missed him, nicked him, or paralyzed him.

"Michael McCloskey was shot because White appropriately felt that either his life or the life of Officer [Christopher] Sargent was in danger at that moment," Mr. Phillips said.

He continually reminded jurors that they could not consider what happened in the early morning hours of May 23, 2009 with "20/20 vision of hindsight" but that they had to put themselves in the place of Officer White, considering only what he knew and saw and felt at the time.

Ottawa Hills officer says he shot man in fear of life; cyclist appeared to reach for weapon, jury is told

By ERICA BLAKE

BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ottawa Hills Police Officer Thomas White said he feared for his life when he saw what he believed was the stopped motorcyclist in front of him reaching for a weapon.

That reach, he said in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, in addition to other actions by Michael McCloskey, Jr., prompted him to fire his weapon.

The officer testified for about two hours yesterday on the fourth day of his criminal trial. A part-time police officer for the village, Officer White is charged with felonious assault with a gun specification for the May 23, 2009, shooting of Mr. McCloskey, 25.

If convicted, he faces up to 11 years in prison.

"Based on the totality of everything that had happened in addition to [his movement], I felt I had to use deadly force," testified Officer White, 27. "It appeared as if he was reaching for a weapon. I feared for my life, so I fired one shot."

Officer White testified that he had been following two motorcyclists westbound on Indian Road at about 2:15 a.m. when he said he noticed several traffic violations. He said he initiated a stop after the two men rode off from a stop sign at a high rate of speed.

Labeling the situation as a "high-risk vehicle stop," Officer White testified that it would be "unusual" for someone to turn around and face an officer when an order is given.

He said that when Mr. McCloskey did turn, he believed the motorcyclist was "pulling a weapon."

It was at that moment that he said he "fired one shot."

Officer White is the last of the defense witnesses to testify.

He acknowledged during questioning from Assistant County Prosecutor Jeff Lingo that he did not know whether Mr. McCloskey knew an officer was behind him while traveling on Indian Road or whether he heard Officer White's command when stopped.

Officer White is accused of shooting Mr. McCloskey once in the back, severing his spine. The incident was recorded on the dashboard camera in the officer's patrol car and has been played several times for the jury of nine women and three men during the trial.

Mr. McCloskey testified Tuesday that he was not aware that a police officer had been following him that night. Instead, both he and a fellow motorcyclist, Aaron Snyder, testified that they believed a friend traveling to the same destination was behind them.

Mr. McCloskey, who is permanently paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the gunshot wound, further testified that he was at first surprised to see police.

It was just moments after realizing he had been stopped, he said, that he felt the "excruciating pain" of the bullet entering his back.

W. Ken Katsaris, a law enforcement consultant and trainer from Florida, testified yesterday that he saw one traffic violation committed by the motorcyclists on the video - when they sped up just prior to Officer White activating his lights and sirens.

Saying that both men obeyed the rules of the road and that "Mr. McCloskey in particular is very straight in his driving," Mr. Katsaris said that he saw no indicators throughout the preceding minutes that Officer White was following the two men that "would be worrisome to a police officer."

Called as a rebuttal witness and designated an expert by the court, Mr. Katsaris' testimony contradicted the opinions of two defense witnesses who testified Wednesday that Officer White was justified in firing his weapon.

Instead, Mr. Katsaris testified that the circumstances did not warrant a shot being fired and he opined excessive force was used.

Mr. Katsaris testified that after Mr. McCloskey stopped his motorcycle, Officer White violated standard procedure by not turning off his siren so that the motorist could hear.

He also testified that he believed the movement Mr. McCloskey made when turning around could not be perceived as "targeting" the officer - as was testified by defense witnesses - but instead was an obvious "inquiry glance" made to determine what was going on.

"If someone can't hear you, it's an obvious reaction [to turn around] to try to get some eye contact," he said. "That's obvious. That's the reason why we say turn off the siren."

He further testified that the command Officer White gave to Mr. McCloskey was not, "Put your hands up," as Officer White testified, but instead, through his review of the video, he determined it to be, "Get down."

"That is a command that he can't obey," he said.

When questioned by defense attorney Jerry Phillips, Mr. Katsaris acknowledged that police officers must make "split-second decisions" and that an officer should always have concerns when making a traffic stop.

But Mr. Katsaris added that a quick decision by an officer should be based on "hours of training."

"That's why we give them training," he said, adding that it is to prevent officers from shooting innocent citizens.

Before testimony concluded yesterday, Columbus Police Officer James Scanlon, who testified Wednesday on behalf of the defense, returned to the witness stand.

He said that he disagreed that Mr. McCloskey was obviously just trying to see what was going on when he turned toward Officer White.

He further testified that it's "unrealistic" to expect an officer to always turn off the siren at the end of a "chaotic situation."

"In the real world, it just doesn't happen," he said.

The jury will return to Judge Gary Cook's court today to hear closing arguments of both sides. It then will begin deliberations.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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