A jury Friday night found an Ottawa Hills police officer guilty of felonious assault for shooting a motorcyclist in the back during a traffic stop.
The Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury reached its decision six hours after beginning deliberations in the case of Thomas White, 27, who was indicted on one count of felonious assault with a firearms specification for the May 23, 2009, shooting of Michael McCloskey, Jr.
Officer White, standing next to his attorney, Jerry Phillips, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
Mr. McCloskey, who testified earlier in the week, was not in court when Officer White was found guilty.
The case went to the jury on the fifth day of the trial. A part-time police officer and dispatcher in Ottawa Hills, Officer White could be sentenced to 11 years in prison. Judge Gary Cook scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. June 21.
Officer White's supporters exited the courtroom while journalists covering the trial were held back. Mr. Phillips, caught as he stepped into the elevator, waved away questions.
Mr. McCloskey, who was 24 at the time, was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot once and the bullet struck his spine.
He and Aaron Snyder were riding their motorcycles on Indian Road when Officer White began following them and ultimately pulled them over at Central Avenue for alleged traffic violations.
Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Lingo described the case as very difficult for him to handle as a former police officer and firearms instructor.
"I would say there are no winners. I believe the jury made the right decision," he said. "As I stated during the trial, this was not an indictment of police officers or a department. The officer is not a bad person in that he set out to commit a crime. He used force well in excess of what needed to be used in a situation."
Video taken by a dashboard camera about 2:15 a.m. showed Mr. McCloskey pull over his motorcycle and look back at the patrol car. When Mr. McCloskey again turns to look back, he is shot and he and the motorcycle fall over.
The officer then appears on the screen and has his gun drawn while the victim is on the ground. After a period, the officer and another man lift the motorcycle off of the victim.
Mr. Lingo said the video was the prosecution's strongest evidence.
Officer White said on the stand that he believed Mr. McCloskey was reaching for a weapon and that his life was in danger when he fired the single shot.
Mr. Lingo told the jury Mr. McCloskey was not fleeing and was not aggressive or threatening on the night in question, that even after he was shot, he politely asked Officer White, "Sir, I don't have a weapon. Will you please lift the bike off me?"
"There is no evidence Mike McCloskey appeared angry, that he was agitated, that he did anything to arouse the suspicions of the police officer," Mr. Lingo said. He contended Officer White had no justification for shooting a man for a traffic violation.
Mr. Phillips told jurors that it made no difference whether Mr. McCloskey had committed a traffic violation or a criminal violation, or whether he had a weapon. He said it made no difference whether Officer White's gunshot missed him, nicked him, or paralyzed him. "Michael McCloskey was shot because Officer White appropriately felt that either his life or the life of Officer [Christopher] Sargent was in danger at that moment," Mr. Phillips said, referring to another Ottawa Hills officer who responded to the scene.
"It's a split-second decision and in his opinion, as a trained police officer, justified," he said.
Mr. Phillips repeatedly reminded jurors that they could not consider what happened in the early morning hours of May 23, 2009 with the "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 that moment.
Mr. Lingo told the jury Officer White rushed to judgment, moved too quickly, and did not give Mr. McCloskey time to comply with his command after he stopped his motorcycle.
Mr. Lingo emphasized to the jury that the charge against Officer White should not be viewed as a blemish on law enforcement in general. "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," he said.
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