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Riots follow the acquittal of Cincinnati policeman

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CINCINNATI — Protesters set small fires and pelted cars with rocks and bottles, and the mayor imposed an overnight curfew after violence broke out over the acquittal of a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man.

The unrest happened in the same Cincinnati neighborhood that bore the brunt of three days of rioting triggered when Officer Stephen Roach shot Timothy Thomas on April 7.

Police said Wednesday night's unrest wasn't nearly as bad as the rioting of last spring and largely dissipated in a couple of hours. Only scattered acts of vandalism were reported overnight, authorities said Thursday.

Twelve adults and two juveniles were arrested on charges of curfew violations, disorderly conduct or drug offenses, police said.

Roach, 27, was acquitted by a judge on negligent homicide and obstructing official business charges. About 12 hours later, the violence erupted.

Mayor Charlie Luken was prompted to impose an overnight curfew and issue a state of emergency, said police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd. The mayor also declared a curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday.

Several cars were hit with rocks and bottles about one block from where a vigil was held for Thomas, who was 17.

At the vigil site, one photographer suffered minor injuries when he was struck on the foot with a brick, and another photographer was cut by glass from a broken bottle.

At least two news vehicles were damaged by rocks or bottles. One car was set on fire, and there were at least 30 fire department runs to put out trash can fires, Byrd said.

But "it's not been anything remotely close to what we had this spring," he said.

Peaceful protests were earlier held outside the courthouse and at City Hall after Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler cleared Roach.

Winkler, who heard the case without a jury at Roach's request, concluded that the shooting was "not a culpable criminal act" because the officer had been put into a situation where he believed he had to shoot or be shot.

"Police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dangerous and rapidly evolving," Winkler said. "Such was the case Officer Roach faced here."

Roach could have been sentenced to nine months in jail if convicted of both charges. He glanced down while the verdicts were read, and his wife, Erin, sobbed into her hands.

"I would give anything to change the outcome of what happened that night, but unfortunately I can't," Roach said outside the courtroom.

Now that the trial is over, authorities will launch an administrative investigation into whether Roach violated any police rules, Byrd said. In the meantime, Roach will remain assigned to a police lot for impounded vehicles.

The shooting took place in Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood that defense attorneys described as plagued by guns, drug deals and violence. Thomas, who was wanted on 14 warrants including traffic charges and previously fleeing police, was shot in the chest after running from three other officers.

Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, said she still didn't believe it was necessary for Roach to shoot her son. She said Roach should have been convicted to send a message to the police department. He was the 15th black man killed in confrontations with Cincinnati police since 1995.

"I wanted my son to be the last (to be shot) — but he won't be the last," Leisure said. "Until serious changes are made in our police department, this will happen again."

The shooting was followed by three nights of rioting in which dozens of people were injured and more than 800 arrested. The city had not seen such racial unrest since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968.

Black activists urged calm but expressed disappointment with the verdict.

"It was a travesty . . . to let him walk," said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, a minister and black leader. "It set this city 10 steps back. Black life has no value in Cincinnati."