LIMA, Ohio -- Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann came to town yesterday to assure Lima residents that his office would do a thorough and unbiased investigation into the fatal shooting of a local woman by a Lima police officer.
Instead, he got an earful.
For more than two hours, Mr. Dann and representatives of the FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation listened as black and white residents expressed their distrust of the Lima police department, told stories of how they allegedly had been harassed by officers, and demanded to know how they could expect the state law enforcement agency to impartially investigate the actions of another law enforcement agency.
"We will do justice in this case," Mr. Dann vowed. "We will do it by the book."
On Jan. 4, Tarika Wilson, 26, was shot to death and her 14-month-old son, Sincere, was wounded when members of the Lima Police Department's SWAT team searched Wilson's East Third Street home and arrested her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, 31, on drug charges.
At some point during the 8:15 p.m. raid, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, a 30-year veteran of the department, fired at Wilson, who was holding her young son in her arms.
Her five other children were in the house at the time.
Mr. Dann said BCI&I was called by Lima police to investigate the shooting at 12:10 a.m. Jan. 5 and two agents arrived on the scene by 1:20 a.m. He said experienced investigators have been working the case every day since, although he made no promise about when the probe would be completed.
"We realize time is of the essence ...," Mr. Dann said. "But we will not do anything, anything that jeopardizes our search in this case for justice."
The state's findings are to be turned over to Defiance County Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh, who was appointed special prosecutor. Mr. Strausbaugh said he will review BCI&I's findings and determine whether or not the case should be presented to an Allen County grand jury for possible criminal charges against Sergeant Chavalia.
"I want an investigation that's been done independently, competently, and very thoroughly," Mr. Strausbaugh said, adding that he was "independent" of Lima and Allen County.
FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said agents from the Toledo office also are investigating the case for possible federal civil-rights violations. Their findings will be turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Officials declined to discuss any details of the investigations. Several people in the audience asked why the probe should take so much time when it should be clear what happened.
"You've given us nothing," said Thelma Flint. "This case is open and shut. She was murdered. She was with her children."
Mr. Dann repeatedly told the crowd that he was committed to giving Lima a fair and thorough investigation.
"I want to express clearly that our commitment is to do the right thing. Give us a chance," he said.
Brenda Johnson, executive director of the Cheryl Allen Southside Community Center, said she would not want to see a grand jury picked in Allen County decide whether or not charges should be brought against the officer.
"If the prosecutor from Defiance finds this man overstepped his bounds, then your work would have been in vain if you're going to give it back to Lima," Ms. Johnson said.
Mr. Dann replied that the prosecutor could present the case directly to a judge if the grand jury disagrees with his belief that criminal charges should be brought.
About halfway through the meeting, the shooting victim's mother, Darla Jennings, walked in and began lobbing obscenity-filled accusations at Mr. Dann.
"I want justice. I want answers. I got that right," Ms. Jennings told him. "This ain't no unsolved murder. We know who did it."
She told Mr. Dann she couldn't expect any kind of fair investigation because his agency "was hired by Lima police."
"They ain't working for me. I want to let that be known," Ms. Jennings said as she stormed out of the auditorium.
Mr. Dann remained patient as residents continued to line up to make comments and ask questions. He encouraged those with complaints to contact his office and told those who had information about the shooting to contact BCI&I directly.
"I understand people are upset. A child was hurt. A mother was killed. That is to be upset about,' Mr. Dann. 'I hear it. I feel it, but let's move to the next level here."
The attorney general promised the audience gathered at the downtown civic center that he was committed to working with Lima to try to remedy the obvious distrust that existed between the police and some community members. His first priority, he said, was getting the shooting investigation completed.
Yesterday's community meeting was broadcast live on a local television station and lasted so long some viewers came downtown to watch it in person.
Janice Smith said she was offended that the FBI did not send an African-American agent to Lima.
"You don't show up in Lima, Ohio, to speak to an educated black community with one token," she told Mr. Dann in apparent reference to Kurt Shearer, the deputy superintendent of BCI&I, who is black.
After further accusations by Ms. Smith, Mr. Dann angrily replied that she owed Mr. Shearer an apology.
"Kurt Shearer is not here because he's African-American. He's here because he is deputy superintendent of BCI and he is responsible for this investigation," Mr. Dann said.
"If the victim were a white person, he would be responsible for this investigation. If the victim were Asian, he would be responsible for this investigation," Mr. Dann said.
Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock, who sat in the audience throughout the lengthy meeting, declined to comment afterward.
"There's really nothing I can say," he said.
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