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9/27/2014 Home - Toledo Blade Verdict deepens divide in racially tense Lima 8/10/2008 BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN

Home - Toledo Blade

Verdict deepens divide in racially tense Lima

8/10/2008

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN BLADE STAFF WRITER

tense Lima 8/10/2008 BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN BLADE STAFF WRITER LIMA, OHIO - The fatal, split-second decision

LIMA, OHIO - The fatal, split-second decision Police Sgt. Joseph Chavalia made the

night of Jan. 4 widened the divide in the already racially tense city of Lima.

"Police department! Get on the ground!" he yelled for the third time that night at a

figure ducking in and out of cover in an upstairs bedroom doorway illuminated by a

light in the room.

Sergeant Chavalia wrote in his report about the drug raid how he twice ordered the

person to get on the ground when he heard gunshots.

When a second round of shots sounded in the Third Street Lima home, the sergeant,

standing on a flight of stairs with a fellow officer beside him, fired his fully automatic

rifle in two rapid bursts, blasting the "shadowy figure" in the neck and upper chest.

"At the time I fired, I had no doubt in my mind that I was being fired upon by the person ducking in and out of the bedroom," the

sergeant wrote.

Lima Police Chief J. Gregory Garlock said his officers were relieved by the acquittal, but

Lima Police Chief J. Gregory Garlock said his officers were relieved by the acquittal, but what happened was a tragedy.

But it turned out that no one was shooting at him, and the person he fired on was an

unarmed Tarika Wilson, 26, who was holding her 13-month-old son, Sincere, in her

arms.

Wilson died that night, and Sincere was struck in the shoulder and hand by bullet

fragments. His finger was amputated as a result.

Wilson was shot in front of her five other children, who were hiding with her in the

bedroom when Lima's SWAT team burst into their home.

The officers were there to arrest Wilson's boyfriend, Anthony Terry, who was wanted

on drug-related charges. A single baggy containing 1 to 5 grams of crack cocaine was

found in the home.

Hiding downstairs when the officers burst in, Terry unleashed two pit bulls, which police shot and killed.

Those were the shots Sergeant Chavalia heard.

Lima NAACP President Jason Upthegrove says that some white city officials are in denial about

Lima NAACP President Jason Upthegrove says that some white city officials are in denial about the city s racial conflicts.

violations.

"There was absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind right then and there that

whatever this was is shooting, and they're trying to kill me," he testified in his trial last

month.

The jury believed him and, on Monday, acquitted him of misdemeanor negligent

homicide and negligent assault charges.

When the verdict was read, some in the courtroom cried tears of joy, others of

anguish.

The next day, Tarika Williams' mother filed a federal lawsuit against Sergeant

Chavalia and the city of Lima on behalf of her grandson, Sincere. A day later, the U.S.

Justice Department announced it was investigating the case for possible civil rights

The Rev. Jesse Jackson also vowed last week to intervene, but only under the leadership of Lima's black religious community.

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"At some point there will be some action," Mr. Jackson told The Blade. "This is a situation where the unarmed was killed by the The lack of care, the lack of judgment. This is not about black and white. This is about wrong and right, and this is not

right."

Sergeant Chavalia, who is white, was acquitted by a jury of four white men and four white women in a city of about 32,000 people, where one in four residents is black. Tarika Wilson was biracial.

Lima has a history of racial division, with long-standing complaints by the black community of brutality from an almost all-white police force.

"I'm born and raised in Lima, Ohio, so they can't tell me nothing about this place and these crooked cops around here. I went to school with half of them," said Darla Jennings, the white mother of Wilson. "It's divided. It's always been divided. You don't see too many whites coming into the black community and vice versa."

But both prosecution and defense at the trial said they don't think race was a factor in the jury's decision.

Sergeant Chavalia's attorney, Bill Kluge, said there were 18 or 19 jury candidates interviewed for the case, only three of whom were black.

One of the black candidates served as an alternate juror, but Mr. Kluge said he disqualified the other two for reasons other than their race.

"The first black juror was the grandmother of one of my clients and had been in my office before. That was a conflict of interest," Mr. Kluge said. "The second black juror used to be the owner of a club here in town called Club Utopia. She had a lot of issues

with the Lima Police Department in dealing with an armed

I didn't think she could get rid of her bias."

Special Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh of Defiance County said he believed Sergeant Chavalia acted negligently when he shot Wilson, but he also said he thought justice was served when the officer was acquitted.

Lima NAACP President Jason Upthegrove said, "Anyone who sat through the trial - the evidence was so overwhelming against this officer, [even] an unreasonable person would feel this guy was clearly guilty."

Sergeant Chavalia, who is on paid leave pending the outcome of investigations, has not granted interviews.

There were no demonstrations following the verdict, but divisions of race and class in the city remained apparent.

Lima Police Chief J. Gregory Garlock said his officers were relieved their fellow officer was not convicted.

"There was a sense of mixed reaction," he said. "Mixed in the sense that there was certainly relief the officer was not [convicted], but there was no happiness here. This was a tragedy."

Lima City Council President John Nixon said Lima does not have an issue with police brutality. He said a black jury would have ruled the same way and that justice was done when Sergeant Chavalia was acquitted.

"I think the record clearly indicates that there is not a police brutality issue, and it is not a reputation founded in fact," Mr. Nixon said.

Police Lt. Chip Protsman said Lima police crews were applauded by black and white residents when they drove through the community the night of the verdict.

"It's been very positive," he said. "We wanted the system to work correctly and it did. Everybody's happy it's gone and over with."

Most in Lima's black community feel differently.

Lima south-side residents Leiayre Freeman, 15, Datrion Downton, 18, and one of their companions were sitting on the porch of a house at the corner of Fifth and Reese streets the night of the verdict.

They said no one was cheering the police in their neighborhood.

"Not on the south side they wasn't," said Leiayre, who is black.

Mr. Upthegrove said Mr. Nixon, Chief Garlock, and other white city officials are in denial about the city's racial conflicts.

"We keep putting Band-Aids on shotgun wounds and wonder why no healing is taking place," he said.

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Debbie Ballentine, an aunt of one of Tarika Wilson's children, said blacks in the community were hurt and outraged after the verdict.

"Some people have literally got sick just from hearing the verdict," she said. "It really hurt me because to me, they're pretty much telling the [police] whatever happened, it's OK."

The Rev. H. Frank Taylor, of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Lima, who is president of the city's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said the city's racial divide has created a systematic inequality for blacks.

"We feel our community is not able to dispense equal justice," he said.

Mr. Taylor and his fellow ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss how to act in response to Sergeant Chavalia's acquittal.

Mr. Upthegrove said Lima police are guilty of "dehumanizing" blacks and that must change if police want to regain the people's trust.

Chief Garlock said the police and community leaders have held stakeholder meetings to address the conflicts between police and some parts of the community.

"There's a segment of the community that is very much supportive of us. I'm talking both black and white," he said.

Councilman Nixon said the lack of racial diversity in city employment is an issue.

"There were issues that came up last year with regard to minority hiring," he said. "Those discussions have to continue and do continue."

Mr. Jackson said the community must learn to trust police for race relations to change, but Sergeant Chavalia's acquittal gives people a greater sense of fear and distrust.

What happened to Tarika Wilson was an injustice for people of all races and black and white must join together to protest that injustice, he said.

"This is a case where citizens of good will, black and white, must find common ground."

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.

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