Hey all. Here’s the news this morning.
Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter won’t get a new trial, a judge has ruled. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has denied all three of Hunter’s motions for retrial after she was convicted last month of one of eight felony counts in relation to her time as judge. Since her conviction, three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts, however, and Hunter’s attorney has alleged procedural mistakes mean she should get a new trial. With those motions denied, Hunter will be sentenced this Friday. She plans to file an appeal on her conviction.
• Cincinnati must pay Duke Energy $15 million for moving utilities that stood in the way of the streetcar, a Hamilton County judge ruled Monday. The city already had that money in escrow as it awaited the ruling but plans to appeal Judge Carl Stich’s decision. That’s a good move, according to former city solicitor John Curp. Curp says the way Stich decided the case — by declaring the streetcar an “economic development project” — could set a hard precedent for other Ohio cities in the future. In order for Cincinnati to avoid paying Duke to move the utilities, the project would have to be something that benefits the city’s general welfare. Stich cited cases from the 1930s and the 1950s to justify his decision. Back then, public transit was run by private companies, a much different situation than today. Curp thinks the Ohio Supreme Court might have a different opinion of the streetcar and should hear the case to set a more modern precedent on transit projects.
• Do you have about $6,000 just sitting around taking up valuable space that could be used to, say, store an enormous ring? Do you need a sports-themed piece of jewelry so ostentatious no one will ever question your love for America’s favorite pastime? If so, I have a solution to both of your weird, unlikely problems. A Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series ring has gone up for sale at a local auction house, and for a few grand you can make it yours. But be advised: It’s not Chris Sabo or Eric Davis’ ring. Heck, it’s not even Glenn Sutko’s, who saw action in one game that season. It belonged to one of the team’s part-time accountants, who I’m sure did great work counting the Reds' money. Every position is important on a winning team. Anyway, it’s big, it’s red, it has the logo on it and you should buy the ring. Or, I dunno, you could buy me a nice used car instead. Up to you.
• So it’s no secret the state’s Democratic party is hurting after last month’s disastrous statewide election. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stepped down after losing his own state representative seat to a guy accused of burglary. Now there’s a scramble to take his spot, and former Cincinnati city councilman and recent attorney general candidate David Pepper is a frontrunner. But he’s got a challenge ahead of him in becoming the top Dem in the state: Ohio’s powerful Sen. Sherrod Brown has backed one of his opponents, former candidate for lieutenant governor Sharen Neuhardt, for the job. Pepper still sees himself as a front-runner in the contest to lead Democrats in one of the country’s most important swing states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The new state chair will be decided by a vote within the party Dec. 16.
• Chicago City Council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. The move was a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel ahead of proposed Illinois laws that could hamstring city governments when it comes to raising minimum wages and February’s Chicago mayoral election. The boost is expected to benefit about 400,000 workers in the city. Other cities like Seattle have passed similar increases recently.
• Finally, Republicans have scuttled an extension on tax cuts for low-income and middle class workers while pushing bigger corporate tax breaks. The cuts were part of a $400 billion bipartisan tax deal lawmakers in Washington were working to put together. But President Barack Obama’s announcement last month of an executive action allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has killed the deal as Republicans pull back from the low-income tax cuts like the Earned Income Tax Credit and double down on the corporate breaks. They say undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the EITC and other credits in large numbers and therefore can’t support the cuts. Translation: Obama made us mad so we’re taking the ball that keeps millions out of poverty and going home.
So my morning donut routine took a dramatic turn today when a box truck plowed into Servatii downtown right before I got there. The whole building was filled with smoke. It looked crazy, and I hope everyone is OK. I’m going to try not to take this as a sign from the universe that I should cut back on Servatii's double chocolate cake donuts.
Anyway, here’s your news.
The NAACP made it official this morning: The civil rights group is coming to Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention. The convention will put the city in the political spotlight and bring millions of dollars from visitors. Cincinnati last hosted the gathering in 2008 when both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama came to town as part of their campaigns for president. This time around should be equally auspicious. Two-thousand-sixteen promises a heated presidential race, Cleveland is getting the GOP National Convention and Columbus is in the running for the Democrats’ big get together that year. The NAACP indicated in October it was leaning toward Cincinnati pending a site visit, an announcement that surprised Baltimore, which had presumed it had the convention.
• 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz is leaving the organization to get back into real estate development. He currently works on asset and capital management for the group. Munitz, who previously served as economic development director with the city of Cincinnati, joined 3CDC in 2006. The development company has not indicated plans for replacing him.
• Local grant-making organization Peoples Liberty, funded by the Haile Foundation, launched over the summer with a pledge to fund plans from everyday citizens in a diverse, inclusive manner.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," the group’s CEO Eric Avner said over the summer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
The group just announced its first two big winners: two guys named Brad. Both will receive $100,000 and a year to work on their projects. One Brad, last name Cooper, will use his money to pay himself a small salary and make two tiny houses in Over-the-Rhine, which he's hoping to sell for $85,000 each. The 200-square-foot homes will be affordable, provided someone can secure financing and the thousands of dollars needed for a down payment. Affordable is a relative term here and seems not to be the main goal of the project. Cooper stressed in an Enquirer article that the idea is about promoting the small-living movement, which has been getting increasing attention over the past few years.
"This is not for poor people," Cooper said. "This is for a wide variety of people who choose this as a lifestyle."
Just don’t call them playhouses for the hip.
The other winner is Brad Schnittger, who will be using his $100,000 to create a music licensing library for area musicians so they can sell their songs to movies, TV and advertising groups. Musicians will pay a small initial fee and then keep all the money they make selling music. Schnittger plays with local vets the Sundresses, so he knows a thing or two about the music industry. He says he thinks this will help Cincinnati’s music scene take things up a notch.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again today as a county judge hears the last of her motions for a new trial. Hunter was convicted last month on one felony count after she allegedly intervened in the firing of her brother, a juvenile court guard who allegedly hit an inmate. Hunter has filed three motions for retrial, saying there were procedural errors and juror misconduct during the trial. Three jurors have said they’ve changed their minds about their guilty verdicts, though it appears too late for those to be overturned. If Hunter’s last motion for a new trial is denied today, she has said she will appeal her conviction.
• Let’s jump right to national news for the finale. President Obama yesterday proposed a $263 million, three-year package that would increase training for police officers, work on needed reforms in law enforcement and spend $75 million on small cameras worn by police on their lapels. Obama made the announcement in the wake of ongoing protests over a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
Welcome back to the post-holiday real world, where we all must once again perform tasks even more arduous than eating three pounds of turkey and falling asleep in a chair while grownups talk about football. But hey, it’s Cyber Monday, so you can still spend brain-melting amounts of time staring at a screen shopping for the perfect deal on those special-edition Ruth Bader Ginsburg signature Nike Dunks you’ve been wanting until you fall asleep in your chair while grownups talk about work. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, on to news.
If you weren’t following CityBeat over the holiday, you probably didn’t hear about this. A group of protesters arrested at a solidarity march for Ferguson, Mo. last week were jailed over Thanksgiving, despite having paid bail. Seven of the eight protesters arrested during the march’s shutdown of I-75 paid their $3,000 bond, but were kept in jail because they were deemed flight risks by Hamilton County Judge Melissa Powers. That meant that despite being charged with only misdemeanors, they had to wear electronic monitoring devices provided by an office that closed Wednesday around noon and wasn’t slated to reopen until today. The protesters were released Friday after Hamilton County Judge Ted Berry overturned the monitoring requirement, however.
• Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace. Another huge development project is in the works for the neighborhood, this one around the historic Grammer’s bar and restaurant. Rookwood Pottery Co. owner Martin Wade is looking to spend $75 million on a project that will redevelop 100 apartments, create 40,000 square feet of office and retail space and build four single-family homes. No word yet on whether any of that living space will be affordable housing aimed at low-income residents, but the plans tend to sound more toward the upscale, with details like Rookwood pottery accents in the works. The final phase of the project will be a 68-unit apartment building aimed at families looking to move into the neighborhood in a space behind the OTR Kroger store that is currently a garden.
• Here’s some good news: Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That’s the lowest it’s been in a decade. Last October, the rate was almost 7 percent.
• No, the Zoo hasn’t hired your one weird clickbait-sharing uncle as its new social media manager. Hackers have taken over the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page and are posting all sorts of non-wildlife related content. The posts began about midnight Sunday and are the kind of thing that one annoying Facebook friend you have always posts: top five embarrassing photos lists, top 10 embarrassing holiday foods you shouldn’t eat lists, top 30 places to visit before your 40th birthday lists; that kind of thing. The Zoo has reached out to the social media company, which so far hasn’t taken any action to stop the posts. Officials with the Zoo are asking users to report the page as hacked.
• In what has to be one of the best examples of terrible journalism seen
in Ohio in years, Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Plain Dealers’ website,
published an article outlining the legal history of the father of the
unarmed12-year-old boy shot by Cleveland police last month. “Tamir
Rice’s Father Has History of Domestic Violence,” the headline screams,
apropos of absolutely nothing at all. The paper published the story Nov.
26, the same day a video showing Rice’s shooting was released. In the
video, an officer jumps out of a patrol car and shoots Rice, a bored-looking kid playing with a toy pistol, within
seconds of arriving at the scene. The shooting has caused a good deal of
anger in Cleveland, prompting demonstrations and calls for the involved
officers’ resignations. An investigation into the shooting is ongoing.
Meanwhile, in what is clearly some alternate reality…
• Members of the Cleveland Police Department are suing the department, saying it racially discriminates against white officers involved in shootings of blacks. Eight white officers and one Hispanic officer are suing over their treatment in wake of a 2012 high-speed chase that resulted in two suspects without guns being shot in their car more than 20 times. The City of Cleveland settled with the families of the two for $3 million. Thirteen officers fired 137 shots during the chase. The nine officers involved in the lawsuit complain that they were unfairly assigned desk duty, meaning they could only perform what the suit calls “boring, menial tasks.” The group says they should not be held accountable for the incident, since the Ohio Attorney General found that it was part of big systemic problems in the department. Huh. That’s interesting logic.
• Finally, I dunno how many of you remember Richard Scarry's Busy Town kids books. If you do, this is hilarious in a "it's really kind of dark because it's true" sort of way. If you don't remember the books, well, I think it's probably still hilarious.
UPDATED Nov. 28, 12:45 PM: Judge Ted Berry waived
the tracking device requirement for the protesters today, and those who posted bail (all but one) should be released in the next few hours.
Original Post: Some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. paid bail the next day. But while most folks were at home enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday, they were still in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early that afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas, Cerissa Newbill and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He was in court Friday morning working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond drew a crowd of about 35 people Thanksgiving day, including family members of some of the protesters. "He didn't even know he wasn't going home," said Evan Geary, brother of Brandon Geary, who also posted bond. "My parents had to tell him he wasn't going home. I'm surprised my parents didn't come. They were very happy this was happening," he said of the vigil.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Hey y’all. Yesterday was a long one, but today’s my birthday and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s awesome.
The big news this morning is something you’ve probably already heard about, maybe from our coverage last night. Roughly 300 people yesterday gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street for a rally organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network. City and state politicians, including State Rep. Alicia Reece and Mayor John Cranley spoke at the event. At some point, most of those gathered embarked on what would become a nearly three-hour march that shut down I-75 and led to 15 arrests. Organizers of the rally say the march wasn’t part of their plans, and not all those who marched went out onto the highway. Protesters started dispersing about 8:30 p.m. after the march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Those arrested on the highway are being charged with violations like disorderly conduct and inducing panic, while those arrested elsewhere are charged with disobeying traffic signals, according to court records. UPDATE: at least some of those arrested have been bonded out.
• Tell us how you really feel. A speech by Mayor John Cranley given Nov. 20 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center had many moments of surprising candor, according to the Business Courier, even for a mayor known to be upfront with his thoughts. During the speech, which wasn’t announced to the press but was recorded by the group, Cranley compared the state of the region’s bus system to the Titanic, called on-street bike lanes “special treatment” and a “disruption,” and called rail projects like the streetcar “19th century technology.” While those comments are provocative, they align pretty well with past positions the mayor has taken. Cranley said the bus system’s finances are in bad shape and argued the city shouldn’t be subsidizing county bus riders. The fare for SORTA buses outside the city is higher, but that higher rate doesn’t pay for the extra cost of running the buses. Cranley also offered a fascinating idea at the meeting: that the Census’ estimate for the city’s population is too low. Cranley thinks the city may have 310,000 residents, more than the roughly 298,000 the Census estimates.
• A new Over-the-Rhine business incubator is opening up Friday for people with great ideas but fewer resources. Mortar, a so-called “urban idea laboratory” on Vine Street, will offer a 10-week business class and support for entrepreneurs, especially underprivileged potential business owners, looking to start a business in Cincinnati’s urban core.
• As we reported yesterday, Ricky Jackson came to Cincinnati yesterday to thank the Ohio Innocence Project. The University of Cincinnati program helped him prove his innocence after he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit in 1975, and, as he said during a triumphant event yesterday at UC, “saved my life.” Jackson, who was just released last Friday, spent 39 years in prison for the crime before being exonerated.
• A bill being considered in Ohio’s General Assembly would end the state’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape cases. But that bill is stalled due to controversy over potential far-reaching consequences. Some lawmakers are pushing for an amendment to the law that would only eliminate the expiration date for cases in which DNA evidence is present proving the identity of the offender. The state of Ohio currently has a backlog of rape kits, evidence collected from a victim after a sexual assault is reported. That’s made finding and prosecuting rapists in a timely manner difficult.
• Finally, this is interesting. Do you remember the Presidential Fitness Test? If you went to public school, you probably took the test, which measured your running ability and your capacity for push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises. When I had to take this test as a youngin, I always pictured a very angry Ronald Regan (I don’t know why I pictured him. Bill Clinton was president at the time) yelling at me to do more sit-ups so the communists wouldn’t win. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, though I should have imagined an earlier president. President Kennedy pushed for youth fitness measures in 1960, decrying the nation’s “growing softness.” The actual test wasn’t instituted until 1966. It included a softball throw that was meant to simulate chucking grenades. Probably would have been more excited for the whole thing as a child if they’d kept that part in.
A rally in remembrance of those who have died in recent police shootings of unarmed black men drew as many as 300 downtown Tuesday evening. The rally was followed by a nearly three-hour march that made its way through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the
West End before briefly shutting down I-75 as protesters streamed onto
The rally and march were in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., where black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Yesterday a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson, spurring civil unrest in the area and demonstrations in cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the march through downtown neighborhoods had echoes of the city’s past — civil unrest lasting days tore through the same communities in 2001 after unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in OTR.
“Honestly, after the decision yesterday I was a bit numb,” said Curtis Webb, as he marched through downtown. “I even questioned whether I would come out tonight. I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m more interested in seeing the walk about these situations. As a black man, I’m… I don’t know. I’m scared to be black. I don’t know how to say it. I’m always questioning, 'Am I doing the right thing? Do I look too dangerous? Are the police going to pull me over?' ”
Cincinnati’s demonstrations started with a rally at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street attended by State Senator-elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece, community organizer Rev. Damon Lynch III and Mayor John Cranley, among others.
At the initial gathering on the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cranley highlighted the progress Cincinnati has made since 2001.
"Like all of you, I am deeply concerned about the loss of life and the events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri," he said. "I can sympathize with all aspects of what the community is experiencing because Cincinnati has had similar tensions in the past. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of trial and errors, but we made progress."
“I spent 27 years in law enforcement, and not once did I fire my weapon to harm someone,” Cecil Thomas said. “And all of a sudden, we see so many officers so quick to pull their guns. How do you pull your gun on a 12-year-old when someone tells you it looks like he has a toy gun? We have to change the way we do our policing.”
Thomas was a peacemaker during the 2001 unrest, working with police, community groups and the city's Human Relations Commission to broker calm.
Many attendees at the initial rally joined in a meandering march that stopped traffic in many of the city’s major streets and passed just feet from the spot where Timothy Thomas was shot in 2001. However, the rally was much more peaceful than the days of unrest 13 years ago. About 20 police followed the march, blocking off streets and working to corral protesters. Organizers with the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network say the march was not part of their plans for the rally.
Tensions rose when protesters, after making their way down Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End, split off onto a highway on ramp onto the north-bound lane of I-75. Police had initially blocked the on ramp, but moved to the highway to block off traffic temporarily. After roughly five minutes, officers drove protesters off the highway with the threat of arrest. Eight protesters were arrested when they didn’t leave quickly enough. They are being held without bond at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
After leaving the highway, the march continued through the city for another hour, eventually dissipating at the Justice Center on Court and Main streets.
Joshua Davis, who helped lead the march, said the problems go beyond any specific case.
“I’m out here because I have nieces who are four, five, six years old and I want them to come up in a world where they don’t have to be afraid of the cops," he said. "There are many things cops can carry that don’t kill people. I’m out here not because I agree Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, or because the cop was guilty or innocent, but because black men are being killed daily.”
The march ended at the
Hamilton County Justice Center at about 8:30 p.m. Fifteen were arrested during the march, according to police.
UPDATE: A hearing for those arrested was held Wednesday at 12:30, according to the county clerk. Court records show some of the protesters have posted bond.
Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.
He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.
“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”
The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case. A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.
OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.
Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.
“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”
He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.
“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”
Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.
There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.
The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson and the Bridgemans are innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.
In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.
“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”
Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks.
A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.
The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful.
Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.
• Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program.
• Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.
• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.
• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless.
“I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."
Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?
It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.
• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.
• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.
• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.
• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."
Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?
Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.
• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.
• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.
• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.
The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.
• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.
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