Northside Community Seeks Justice for Shooting of Local Musician
by Mark Grauhuis
In the early morning hours of April 18, a 911 call was placed reporting a “cutting” at Chase and Georgia Avenues a few hours earlier. 40 year-old David Paul Hebert, affectionately known as ‘Bones’, was named as a suspect. Soon after the 911 call was placed, Hebert and a companion were apprehended by police.
According to police statements, Hebert removed a switchblade from his pocket, “swiped” it, and lunged at officers. Sgt. Andrew Mitchell then fired two rounds into his upper left chest. Officers at the scene reported that Hebert initially denied having a weapon.
Just thirteen minutes after the 911 call, Hebert was pronounced dead at the scene.
None of the officers were injured. Following the shooting, they were put on paid administrative leave as investigations were conducted by the Cincinnati Police Criminal Investigation Section, Internal Affairs, and the Citizen Complaint Authority.
This is the 23rd time a suspect has been killed by a Cincinnati officer during a confrontation since 1995.
Hebert, who was originally from New Orleans, had just moved back to Cincinnati in November. He worked for several years in the kitchen at The Comet in Northside and recently at NorthSlice Pizza. He initially came to Cincinnati decades ago as part of a Christian youth outreach group called Jesus People USA, and over the years he had covered his body in tattoos, many of which were a testament to his faith in Christ.
Cincinnati Police District 5 Commander David Bailey and Sgt. Jason Voelkerding came to the Northside Community Council’s monthly meeting at McKie Recreation Center the night after mourners gathered to remember Bones. The plan was to share information about the community’s recent crime statistics but the officers had to face questions from a group of about 100 residents about the lethal police shooting.
Many say there is good reason to believe that the death could have been avoided. Statements released by police and city officials have left many unanswered questions in the community.
Many wonder why Hebert wasn’t searched before questioning and why one of the many non-lethal weapons CPD officers carried could have been used, such as a baton or stun gun. All four officers that responded said there was not enough time to use a non-lethal weapon. However, only Mitchell had his weapon drawn. Mitchell responded as back up to the scene and had only been on scene for about one minute before he fatally shot Hebert.
Cruiser video released by the Cincinnati Police Department shows that Hebert, who has no previous history of violence, was still holding the leash of his beloved dog, Shady, when he was killed. The initial responding officer’s cruiser camera was not activated during the incident and the released video does not show Hebert, only a view of the officer.
Some witnesses claim that Hebert wasn’t even standing when he was shot.
Others wonder if an effort was made to save his life after he was shot and why his body laid uncovered and in full view for more than three hours.
Mitchell has been investigated for use of force before. In 2006, Mitchell fired two shots at 22-year-old Antonio Harris, a burglary suspect in Westwood, after Harris raised a BB gun toward the officer. Mitchell was exonerated by the Citizen’s Complaint Authority.
Investigations were done twice in January 2008 on Mitchell, first when a 14-year-old died after ingesting drugs while in Mitchell’s custody and then when he used a stun gun on a high school student whom he mistook for a robbery suspect. An internal investigation found that, in at least one case: “Mitchell did not follow procedures or training. He did not verify there was a crime, and didn’t get a suspect description.”
Despite these investigations, Mitchell was promoted to sergeant.
On April 27, 42 people signed up to speak at City Hall about the shooting and many questioned how far the city really has come since the 2001 riots.
“The community does not want this to be something that’s on the six o’clock news this evening and then falls off the page,” said Liam Dolan, who has known Hebert for 15 years. “The press conference – I’m glad they gave us some sort of information – but that’s not enough. We want everything.”
The evidence on the scene raises many questions because the switch¬blade that police claim Hebert used was found in a row of hedges below a broken window. Police theorize the force of the shot caused the weapon to break the window and land there, but many residents say that is unlikely.
The man who called 911 and solicited the search for Hebert, 37-year-old Jason Weller, laughs in his emergency call and gave dispatchers and investigators different versions of his story. He claims he was cut and robbed by Hebert and a female companion. The female companion has not been arrested and none of the items reported stolen were found in their possession. Weller disappeared shortly after the shooting.
Police may have been able to avoid the shooting if they had responded to an earlier call. About 30 minutes prior to the shooting, 911 received a call of arguing and loud noise coming from the basement apartment of the building that Weller was staying in, but police were not dispatched.
Acting Police Chief Richard Janke held a televised press conference on the shooting standing alongside City Manager Milton Dohoney and Mayor Mark Mallory.
“It was close quarters for very rapid action on the part of this subject,” Janke said in defense of Mitchell’s use of deadly force, despite there being several investigations launched into the shooting.
At the chief’s discretion, Mitchell went back to work after one week of administrative leave. Despite the fact that the outcomes of four investigations are still pending, he is currently supervising and patrolling in Northside. No efforts were made to inform the community of that decision.
Northsiders have remained strong though the tragedy, using creative street stencils, posters, and music to celebrate the life of Bones. They have stood together to demand answers.
Hebert’s body was laid to rest in a private funeral ceremony in New Orleans. His family is still seeking answers and awaiting a determination by the prosecutor’s office on any charges against the officers.
For more information visit http://www.davidboneshebert.com/. If you have information pertinent to this investigation, please contact the City of Cincinnati Citizens’ Complaint Authority at (513) 352-1600.
Letter from Friends of David “Bones” Hebert
For friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers of David “Bones” Hebert, the events of April 18th and the weeks that have followed have been heart wrenching and baffling. Bones, a skinny tattooed drummer in an endless stream of Cincinnati punk and rock bands over the past 20 years, was known for his easy smile and good-natured mischief making. The life of any party, he made friends easily and kept them for life. He loved animals, especially his dog Shady, his constant companion to the end. He had no violent criminal record, no history of theft, assault, or resisting arrest, was never diagnosed or known to suffer from mental illness. He was a man trusted to babysit the children of his friends.
We know that Hebert is one more person who has been injured or killed by members of the Cincinnati Police Department. We know that Cincinnati’s his¬tory of police brutality and excessive force is not unique and that this problem affects communities throughout the United States. We know that nothing we do will change the fact that Hebert is dead, and the finality of Sgt. Mitchell’s actions—whether found justified or not—can never be undone. But we also know that if it happened to Hebert, it could happen to any one of us.
The outpouring of grief and demands for answers from the community, the jazz funeral procession of more than 400 people that marched through North¬side [on Sunday afternoon, May 1st], the graffiti mural painted in memoriam on a wall near the corner of Knowlton and Hamilton Avenue, these must have taken the police by surprise. But what would have happened if Hebert had been an isolated and rootless man? Would anyone have noticed, much less questioned, how and why he was killed?
Friends of David “Bones” Hebert