Thomas White, (above) the part-time, small town cop who was video recorded shooting an Ohio biker named Michael McCloskey a year ago, has been found guilty of felonious assault with a firearms enhancement. The jury returned the verdict around 7:30 pm Eastern Time Friday. It took the jurors six hours to reach that conclusion.
McCloskey, then 25 and another man named Aaron Snyder were riding their Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Ottawa Hills, near Toledo, about 2:15 am on May 23rd, 2009. They were stopped for exceeding the 25-miles-per hour speed limit. Both men attempted to comply with police instructions.
Shortly after getting out of his patrol car White shot McCloskey without discernible provocation. McCloskey was instantly paralyzed. His motorcycle fell on him exhaust side down. While the hot exhaust pipes burned through McCloskey’s leg he begged White and another Ottawa Hills Policeman, Christopher Sargent, to pull the bike off him. Snyder ran to McCloskey’s aid and he also asked the police to help him lift the 600 pound motorcycle and the 200 pound man. The police replied, “He’s your friend. You get the bike off of him.” McCloskey is still in constant pain from the burns.
The scene was recorded by the dash mounted video cameras in White’s and Sargent’s cruisers. White attempted to have the video evidence suppressed. It was shown to the jury and the world and what it showed outraged most people who saw it.
White’s defense comprised mostly trying to convince people not to believe the obvious. Tuesday, Sargent took the stand and he testified that he had been very afraid.
The defense called two “expert” witnesses on Wednesday. A former FBI Agent named Urey Patrick, who has a part-time job testifying on behalf of trigger happy cops, told the jury that McCloskey had provoked White by not cooperating quickly or enthusiastically enough. Patrick optimistically testified that, “If McCloskey had turned off the bike and raised his hands on the handle bars this wouldn’t have happened.” Although Patrick never explained why he thinks White would not have just gone ahead and shot McCloskey anyway.
A Columbus, Ohio Swat Team member named James Scanlon, who has shot three suspects and killed one, testified that the shooting was justified. Scanlon even had the gall to testify that he might use the dash cam video from the trial as a training aid, to show police recruits an example of a “justified shooting.” Scanlon called the traffic stop a “chaotic situation.”
White took the stand in his own defense yesterday and testified that he shot McCloskey because he thought McCloskey was “pulling a weapon.” White characterized the seemingly routine stop as “high-risk.”
“Based on the totality of everything that had happened in addition to (his threatening motion) I felt I had to use deadly force,” White said. “It appeared as if he was reaching for a weapon. I feared for my life, so I fired one shot.”
White also told the jury not to trust the video from inside the police car because he had had a better view of the traffic stop than the camera provided. And White also told the jury that he “feels terrible” that McCloskey forced him to shoot him.
The prosecution called a rebuttal witness named W. Ken Katsaris. Katsaris is a police consultant and trainer with a business based in Florida. He testified that White violated standard procedure when he did not turn off his siren and as a result of that McCloskey must have had trouble hearing him.
Katsaris also testified that his analysis of the video convinced him that McCloskey never put his hands up because White never told him to do that. Katsaris testified that White had ordered the man to “’Get down.’” And that was, “a command that he can’t obey.”
Before McCloskey could figure out how to do what the cop wanted him to do White shot him in the back. The jury saw it that way, too.
White will be sentenced June 21st. He could be sentenced to up to eleven years. He is likely to serve between one and four.