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Solon attorney praised
Solon attorney praised
By SUE REID
After nearly 30 years with the U.S. Attorney's Office where he works as a member of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force prosecuting large-scale drug trafficking organizations, Solon resident Roger S. Bamberger found himself on unfamiliar ground.
He was faced with the challenge of prosecuting law enforcement officers accused of abusing an inmate at the Lucas County Jail. The 34-year-old inmate was left unconscious and died two days later.
Mr. Bamberger, senior litigation counsel for the U.S. Attorney's Office since 2008, joined the trial team in the United States v. Gray in mid-2009 for the case, based on a specific request from the U.S. Attorney due to his extensive trial background.
Based on that work, he was recently given a prestigious Director's Award for litigative excellence by the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. The award will be presented in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9.
The case was difficult to try on a number of fronts, Mr. Bamberger explained. First, by the time it went to trial, it was 6 years old, due in large part to the alleged coverup in the Lucas County sheriff's office. Secondly, the African-American victim in the case had a very complicated medical history, requiring Mr. Bamberger to master an area of law he was unfamiliar with.
It was determined by the FBI investigation and the Civil Rights Department that the sergeant in the jail had employed a sleeper hold on the inmate in an attempt to remove restraints. That basically rendered him unconscious, Mr. Bamberger said, and he left without telling anyone. That sergeant and others wrote false reports omitting any mention of the sleeper hold, and the sheriff was aware of this coverup.
"This case involved very substantial medical issues about the actual cause of death, which was the area entrusted to me," Mr. Bamberger said. "It required me to become conversant with a myriad of medical issues involving the heart and brain. There was a substantial amount of medical testimony dealing with cause of death."
Mr. Bamberger immersed himself in this case, working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Department of the Department of Justice in Washington.
"This kind of trial is probably the most difficult kind of case the government prosecutes in the criminal arena," Mr. Bamberger said. That is because in most every criminal trial, he said, "the people working with us and sitting at the trial table are members of law enforcement.
"In this case, our victim was an inmate of the Lucas County jail and defendants were members of law enforcement starting with sheriff."
In addition to the seven weeks of trial proving his case, Mr. Bamberger also spent countless days in Toledo, where the trial was held in the federal district courthouse, preparing witnesses and organizing documents.
"This case was all consuming," Mr. Bamberger said. "It was 24/7, seven days a week. There were no off days regardless if we were in trial or getting ready."
"Roger's work on this case was exemplary," Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said. "He put his entire life on hold for months to go to Toledo and, despite a career as one of law enforcement's staunchest supporters, make the point that police must be held to the same standards as the rest of society."
Mr. Bamberger secured a conviction of the sergeant who applied a sleeper hold and another corrections officer for writing false reports. The sergeant received a three-year prison sentence and the correction officer a year. "Unfortunately, we did not prevail against the sheriff and lieutenant," Mr. Bamberger said.
Mr. Bamberger said there is a level of satisfaction with securing the convictions, "but certainly a level of dissatisfaction because the higher-ups walked out of the courtroom.
"In drug task force, we're used to convicting everyone," Mr. Bamberger said. "Losing some of these defendants was disappointing to me." The civil rights organization hailed it as a great victory, though, he said. Mr. Bamberger received a personal note from Eric Holder, attorney general of the U.S. and first African-American to hold the position.
"We tell our kids, 'if you are ever in trouble, find the man in blue,' and that's ingrained in us," he said. "For a jury to convict a member of law enforcement is an extremely difficult task."
The time he has spent on the case has also been a learning experience in many ways, he said. "I had always thought members of the drug task force had the toughest cases and worked the longest and hardest, but my opinion has changed.
"I've seen members of the civil rights unit who live and work not just in the District of Columbia but travel all over the continental U.S. and Hawaii. They are not only investigating but prosecuting these cases, leaving family and friends."
A graduate of Case Western Reserve University law school, Mr. Bamberger is an adjunct professor of law both at Case and Cleveland Marshall College of Law. His duties in the U.S. Attorney's office involve conducting all of the necessary training for the 80 assistant U.S. attorneys in the Northern District of Ohio.
"I'm sort of a trouble-shooter," he said, "which is how I got involved in this case.
He and his wife Susan have lived in Solon for about 20 years. They have a daughter, Jordan, who attends graduate school at the University of Arizona.
For Mr. Bamberger, 64, this director's award represents a first, he said. "There are not many given out," he said. "It's a substantial honor.
"I'm certainly gratified. My career is somewhat winding down, so it's a nice finish."
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