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OHIO - Report: Police shooting of Iron Horseman justified

but board had concerns about the 'execution' of the operation

Cincinnati police acted lawfully and their investigation into possible gang activity was justified last fall at a Camp Washington bar where one gang member was shot and killed by police, according to a newly released report by Cincinnati's Firearm Discharge Board.

However, the board - three Cincinnati police captains, an assistant Cincinnati chief and an assistant city solicitor - had "concerns in regards to the execution" of the operation, including whether the member of the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club who was killed knew he was firing at police officers.

The board, which investigates every discharge of a police-issued firearm, also determined the operation itself was rushed.

On a Saturday evening in mid-September last year, a Cincinnati vice officer drove by JD's Honky Tonk and Emporium, in the 2400 block of Spring Grove Avenue, and noticed members of the Iron Horsemen standing at the front and rear doors, according to the 33-page report.

Police were on alert for this type of activity because liquor establishments on the city's West Side had begun complaining that Iron Horsemen were coming into their bars, assigning look-outs at each entrance of the business and canvassing them for rival gang members to assault.

Police were also aware that Harold Seavey, a 51-year-old muscle man for the organization, was in town. Fliers with his photo indicating he was a "possible hazard to police" had been circulated to officers in weeks leading up to the incident at JD's.

Before approaching the bar, officers with the Central Vice Control Section verified there were numerous Iron Horsemen inside and created a plan to conduct a liquor inspection, according to a description of the incident in the board's report.

Roughly a dozen officers took part in the operation, which quickly escalated to a gunfight.

The vice officers - dressed in black protective vests with "police" markings, badges and gun belts - pulled up in the parking lot. Lew Erskine, another gang member, ran out of the bar toward the gang's motorcycles in the parking lot and the officers identified themselves as police, according to the report.

Erskine reached for his waistband and police ordered him to the ground and recovered a gun from him. Seavey was standing by another entrance on the patio and pulled a black semiautomatic handgun; when ordered to drop it, he grabbed a female standing near the door instead and placed her between himself and the officers, the report said.

Seavey walked toward the bar's entrance, still using the female as a shield. He pushed her inside, turned and opened fire, hitting one of the officers in his right thigh, the report said. A gunbattle ensued. Seavey was shot twice, resulting in his death. A second officer was shot in the buttocks and gang member Daniel Schneider was shot in the foot.

The Firearm Discharge Board determined there was "reasonable suspicion," based on reports in other bars, for the vice officers to respond and further investigate the matter. It also determined that all six officers who fired their weapons had a right to do so, because Seavey fired his gun first.

But the board also determined:

Officers' shots - 31 rounds - were deemed "high risk" because the backdrop was a patio and the outside wall of the bar with patrons inside, including children. Although the gunbattle took place outside the bar, bullet projectiles and bullet fragments were found in the interior wall and on the floor inside the pool room. However, the board decided the shots were necessary to save lives when Seavey opened fire and continued his attack on officers.

A uniform police presence should have been better established. It had been part of the plan to have a uniform car and uniform officer arrive first in the parking lot, but it did not happen. "The idea of this administrative liquor inspection was to let the bar owner, patrons and the Iron Horsemen know that the police were present and the bar was being checked," the report reads. One of the Iron Horsemen and several of the civilian witnesses interviewed later by police said they did not immediately recognize the people in the parking lot as police officers. The Firearm Discharge Board recommends Central Vice Control Section mandate more than just one uniform officer and car present when an investigation of this nature happens again.

Raid masks, which some of the officers wore, were an unwise choice in the initial approach, even if the officers wore them to hide their identity and most read "police." Central Vice Control Section has since changed procedure, now requiring officers wearing raid masks to remain unseen until a scene is secured for safety by other officers. The Firearms Discharge Board recommends all undercover units adopt this rule.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher chose to withhold the names of the vice officers, saying he feared retaliation against them. The Enquirer sued based on the principle that the police chief should not choose what public records he wants to release and these records are needed to fully examine how the incident was handled. On Sept. 9 the Ohio First District Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's finding, ruling that "the officers' interest in protecting themselves ... outweighs the public's interest in uncovering the individual officers' names."

The Firearm Discharge Board review is one of the last steps in this case. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters decided in May that the police officers who shot Seavey were justified in their actions. The Cincinnati Police Department has completed a death investigation by the Homicide Unit as well as an administrative review conducted by CPD's Internal Investigation's Section.

It was not immediately clear on Thursday whether an investigation by the city's Citizen Complaint Authority had been completed|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

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