Officer aquitted in deadly shooting
Mon, 04 Aug 2008 21:24:24 GMT —
A white police officer was acquitted Monday in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed black woman that set off protests about how police treat minorities in a city where one in four residents is black.
The all-white jury found Sgt. Joseph Chavalia not guilty on misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. He had faced up to eight months in jail if convicted of both counts.
Chavalia shot and killed Tarika Wilson and injured her year-old son who she was holding while SWAT officers stormed her house in January looking for her boyfriend, a suspected drug dealer.
Wilson's family members stormed out of the courtroom before the judge finished dismissing the jury.
"I need out of here," one woman said.
A month after the shooting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the city and demanded that the officer who fired the fatal shots and those who planned be held accountable.
Chavalia, though, was the only one charged.
Black clergy leaders were upset that the two misdemeanor charges were not more severe.
Prosecutors said Chavalia, walking up a stairway in the house, recklessly fired into a bedroom where Wilson was with her six children. Her son, Sincere Wilson, was hit in the shoulder and hand. One of the boy's fingers was later amputated.
He fired three times at her even though he could not clearly see her or whether she had a weapon, said Prosecutor Jeffrey Strausbaugh.
"He couldn't tell Tarika had a child in her arms," he said in closing arguments Monday.
The officer testified Thursday that he thought his life was in danger when he shot Wilson, 26, and injured her son.
Chavalia said he saw a shadow coming out from behind a partially open bedroom door and heard gunshots that he thought were aimed at him. It turned out that gunfire he heard was coming from downstairs, where other officers shot two charging pit bulls.
Defense attorney Bill Kluge told jurors Monday that Chavalia should not be judged on what wasn't known until after shooting, including the fact that Wilson did not have a gun or pose a threat.
"It's Monday morning quarterbacking," he told jurors. "Put yourself in Joe's shoes that night."
The jury's decision, he said in closing statements, will affect officers across Ohio.
"What kind of world would it be if we didn't have police officers," Kluge said. "Joe was doing his duty."
Eleven officers raided Wilson's house on Jan. 4 looking for her boyfriend, Anthony Terry. He was arrested and pleaded guilty in March to charges of drug trafficking.
Following the shooting, dozens of people accused the police department of being hostile and abusive toward minorities. One group led a series of marches through the city to protest what they said was mistreatment by police.