Ohio’s Hamilton County coroner ruled Dec. 3 that the death of Nathaniel Jones, 41, was a homicide. Jones, a Black man who weighed 350 pounds, was beaten to death by Cincinnati police officers, Nov. 30.
Other factors contributed to Jones’s death, but the coroner, Carl Parrot, said, “absent the struggle, Mr. Jones would not have died.”
The Jones’ family attorney, Ken Lawson, said that Jones may have been provoked into a fight with police.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the family wants answers,” Lawson told WLWT-TV. Lawson says witnesses at the fast food restaurant where Jones was killed have alleged that he was provoked into a fight by police. “You can’t start a fight, and then say it’s his fault,” Lawson said.
The video shows Jones lunging at the officers, swinging and hitting one of them. He is wrestled to the ground, then beaten with nightsticks while being ordered repeatedly to “Put your hands behind your back.”
But the video images showing police beating and jabbing Jones over 40 times – at least a dozen of them after he had fallen on the ground – has outraged and sickened many.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said in a statement, “The sight of police officers repeatedly beating Nathaniel Jones with metal nightsticks is sickening and appears well outside of the norm for subduing an unarmed suspect.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition statement, said, “Police officers have options available to immobilize citizens, short of death.” Mfume and Jackson have called for investigations by state and federal officials.
The murder has rekindled tensions between the police and the African American community. Since 1995, at least 18 Black men have died at the hands of Cincinnati police.
In 2001, the killing of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas by a white police officer sparked a rebellion in Cincinnati. That and the ensuing struggle led the police department to agree to a series of changes, including a new “use-of-force” policy. One of those procedures was to have a mental health team on call for situations like the Jones case. That team was never called.
The mayor, police chief and police union have defended the officers, saying that they followed department procedures. The coroner, while ruling the death a homicide, cautioned it did not imply that police used excessive force.
But Calvert Smith, Cincinnati NAACP chapter president said, “If proper procedure means that you can use that kind of force to clobber people repeatedly who are clearly disarmed, then there’s something wrong with the policy.”
“You don’t keep beating on him,” attorney Lawson said. “You give him a chance to surrender. No one is going to surrender as long as you keep slapping them across the head or body.”
A citizens’ review board investigation, along with an administrative inquiry, is underway. The Justice Department said it is gathering information to determine whether a federal investigation is needed.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 people paid their respects to Jones, Dec. 6, at the Allen Temple Worship Center. The mood was somber as a line of more than 200 people stretched into the parking lot. Visitors waited to greet Jones’ grandmother and other family members.
The service concluded with family members releasing doves, a traditional sign of peace, into the air. The standing-room-only service, which included a video tribute to Jones, was closed to television cameras. A weekend protest rally was canceled in response to his family’s request that it not be held at this time.
Terrie Albano (email@example.com) contributed to this story.