Live

Watch CBSN Live

Cincinnati Family Wants Answers

Cincinnati remains divided after the coroner's ruling Wednesday that the death of a black man after a scuffle with police was a homicide. His family wants answers to why the gentle, jolly man they knew would get in a violent confrontation with police.

Nathaniel Jones, 41, died early Sunday shortly after six police officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. A video camera in a police cruiser showed that Jones swung at an officer, and that officers hit him repeatedly with nightsticks.

City leaders fielded questions and complaints from residents and Jones' family Wednesday night at a forum sponsored by the city's Human Relations Commission.

"Another black man has been killed at the hands of the Cincinnati police, but it's nothing new," said one man. "The city is divided, black and white, but the blacks always die."

"Somewhere along the road we are going to get this thing right, where we have mutual trust on both sides," said Scotty Johnson of the Sentinels, an organization of black police officers, at the forum. "I'm not saying we're going to do it overnight, but let's try to start moving forward when it comes to dialogue and trust in each other."

The coroner said Wednesday that Jones' death was a direct result of the struggle, partly attributable to his weight, heart disease and drug use.

"We do believe that (the police) and the fire department and paramedics are legally responsible for Mr. Jones' death," said family attorney Kenneth Lawson on CBS News' Early Show Thursday.

Jones' aunt Diane Payton told Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that wasn't the nephew she knew on the videotape.

"I would like to know what happened to cause that, what happened before that ... This doesn't make sense," Payton said. "He was peacefully standing there dancing, like he always did. He was jolly, friendly. Something happened and that's what I want to know. I want to know what caused that."

"They can't find anybody who will say that he had a tendency or propensity for violence," added Lawson.

Lawson said Jones' body was being taken to Indianapolis for an independent autopsy. He said the family has not decided if it will file a wrongful death lawsuit against they city, but felt that an independent investigation is needed.

Hamilton County Coroner Carl Parrott said his autopsy showed that Jones suffered from an enlarged heart, obesity and had intoxicating levels of cocaine, PCP and methanol in his blood.

Parrott said the death will be ruled a homicide, but that such a ruling "should not be interpreted as implying inappropriate behavior or the use of excessive force by police."

Jones' body had bruising on the lower half, but did not show signs of blows to the head or organ damage, Parrott said.

The coroner said he had to rule the death a homicide because it didn't fall under other categories of a death in Ohio: accident, suicide or natural.

Jones' death certificate will list a cause of death as an irregular heart beat because of a stress reaction from the violent struggle, Parrott said.

Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. has said the videotape showed that police officers observed department guidelines. Activists say Jones' death was another example of brutality by Cincinnati police against blacks in a city that was rocked by race riots two years ago. Jones was black, as were some of the officers involved.

"I think it's odd that we can all look at the same thing and come to different conclusions," Lawson said.

The struggle occurred early Sunday after a fast-food restaurant employee called 911 to report that a man had passed out on the lawn. Fire emergency personnel arrived and reported that the man was awake and "becoming a nuisance," according to police radio transmissions.

The first two arriving officers were shown on the police video striking Jones after he ignored orders to "stay back," took a swing at an officer and put his arm around one's neck.

The officers later knocked Jones to the ground and fell on him, and jabbed or hit him with nightsticks at least a dozen times.

Streicher told the City Council he has invited the Justice Department and the FBI to review Jones' death. The Justice Department said this week it has begun gathering information to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

Fire Chief Robert Wright said Wednesday he will conduct an administrative hearing to determine whether his department's paramedics left the scene of Jones' death prematurely.

View CBS News In