Panel's role in Cleveland police ruling questioned

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CLEVELAND -- A lawyer for families of men killed in separate 2012 shootings by Cleveland police -- including a 137-bullet chase under federal investigation -- is questioning a grand jury's role in a recent county prosecutor's ruling.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced Thursday that Cleveland Patrolman Roger Jones acted lawfully when he fatally shot 20-year-old Kenneth Smith, of Euclid, in March 2012. McGinty said Jones acted reasonably and was justified.

Attorney Terry Gilbert represents Smith's family in a civil wrongful-death lawsuit against Jones and the city that could be affected by McGinty's ruling.

"To say that he (Jones) was heroic, and that he did a service to the citizens of Cleveland, is insane, based on what we know," Gilbert told public broadcasting station WVIZ .

Gilbert said a Cuyahoga County grand jury didn't hear from some key witnesses, including the investigator of Smith's shooting and Jones himself. Gilbert told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer (http://bit.ly/1i099Tq) it was unclear whether the panel received charges from McGinty to vote on, which is standard practice.

McGinty took over the job of deciding high-stakes deadly force cases in the city about a year ago, after Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced city prosecutors would forward the decisions to the county for the sake of transparency. McGinty said he intended to put each case before a grand jury.

Nowhere in his letter did McGinty mention whether a Cuyahoga County grand jury played a role in the Smith decision or if they were presented with evidence.

McGinty spokesman Joe Frolik said the grand jury process is secret by law and can't be discussed.

Cleveland's police department has been dealing with the fallout from a Nov. 29, 2012, chase, which involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90 and eventually ended with gunfire in East Cleveland. Officers fired 137 shots.

Both victims were black, and no weapon was found. The police union has defended the officers' actions and said the driver was trying to ram them. An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures in the chase, which has prompted a federal use-of-force investigation.

On the night Smith was shot, he had been at a downtown bar with friends. Jones, who was off duty, chased a vehicle driven by a friend of Smith's. Authorities say Smith ignored Jones' order to exit the car and reached for a gun before he was shot once in the head.

Gilbert, who also represents Timothy Russell, the 43-year-old shot 23 times at the end of the 2012 chase, told the newspaper that community activists are concerned about McGinty handling deadly force decisions because the Cleveland police union endorsed him for political office.

The union has countered, accusing McGinty of meeting with community leaders about the chase and shooting case and being swayed by special interests.

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Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com

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