The Department of Justice yesterday released a report detailing its year-and-a-half-long investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. Its findings, and its timing, are devastating, detailing incidents where unarmed civilians were shot 20 times during a car chase, a unarmed man kicked in the head by officers while in handcuffs and many other examples of unnecessary force.
The report comes as the nation grapples with anger over a number of police shootings of unarmed people, especially people of color. Among them is 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot in Cleveland by police last month.
“We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CPD engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the report states. “We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the unreasonable use of force.”
The DOJ launched the investigation in March 2013 after receiving complaints about multiple incidents of use of excessive force by CPD. Those incidents included a November 2012 chase in which two unarmed civilians were shot and killed in their stationary car by 13 officers who fired a total of 137 rounds.
The report says the problems go beyond officers on the beat and extend all the way up to those charged with investigating police misconduct.
"Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers' use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible," the DOJ report says.
As a result of the study, CPD has signed an agreement with the Justice Department that will require the department to undergo independent monitoring while it undertakes serious reforms to its community engagement, officer training and accountability efforts.
"Together, we can build confidence in the division that will ensure compliance with the Constitution, improve public safety and make the job of delivering police services safer and more effective," said Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement on Thursday.
The report comes just two weeks after Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice two seconds after exiting a squad car onto a playground were Rice was playing with a toy gun. The 911 caller reporting the boy states twice that the gun he is carrying is “probably fake,” though a dispatcher does not relay that information to officers.
Loehman said he feared for his life when he shot Rice. Police officials have said the toy Rice was carrying looked just like a real weapon and therefore the officer had no choice but to shoot.
"This is an obvious tragic event where a young member of our community lost their life," said Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba during a news conference after the shooting. "We’ve got two officers who were out there protecting the public who had to do something no one wants to do.”
Yesterday, CNN reported newly uncovered details about Loehman’s past service as a police officer. Before being hired by CPD in March, Loehman was asked to leave suburban Independence, Ohio’s police force in 2012, documents show. A supervisor described Loehman as “emotionally immature.”
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak wrote in November 2012.
A group of more than 100 staged a peaceful rally in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday evening remembering Eric Garner, the 42-year-old man who died after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo administered a choke hold on him last July.
A New York grand jury announced yesterday it would not hand down an indictment for Pantaleo, despite video footage showing Garner offering little resistance and posing no threat to officers during the incident. The announcement has triggered protests across the country, including massive unrest in New York City, where thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in anger. The decision is yet another chapter in the nation's recent struggle with racially charged police killings.
The officers involved say they only used the force necessary to subdue Garner and that previous health conditions including asthma contributed to his death.
Demonstrators in Cincinnati faced freezing rain and icy temperatures during the hour-and-a-half long event, which started at Piatt Park on Vine Street before briefly shutting down the street as protesters marched to Fountain Square. There, the group, which had been chanting "black lives matter" and Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," observed a few moments of silence for Garner and others who have died at the hands of police. Amid the swishing sound of a few ice skaters on the square's rink and Jingle Bells blasting over its PA system, many quietly laid on the ground with their hands up.
“I can’t just sit on a couch and watch TV and just watch it happen," said attendee Anna Alexander later. "I have to do something. It’s good to see that people actually care, that people are actually awake.”
Hello all, hope you’re doing well this morning. I’m having a bit of trouble getting started today, maybe due to CityBeat’s Bourbon and Bacon event last night. The party at Newport’s New Riff Distillery (which is amazing, by the way) featured nearly unlimited amounts of bacon-infused items. Bacon is one of my favorite things. I’m also a big fan of whiskey, which was also available in seemingly endless quantities. I’m still recovering.
Anyway, news time.
Usually, we think of the staunch conservatives in our state House of Representatives, bless their souls, as lovers of the smallest government possible. So it’s surprising that GOP state lawmakers have been working on a bill to pick cities’ pockets by reverting tax receipts usually going to municipalities to the state government. That bill got a little less pernicious yesterday, when a revised version passed the Ohio Senate. Mayor John Cranley touts the bill as a better deal for Cincinnati than it could have been. The proposal, which amends and allegedly simplifies Ohio’s tax rules for cities and other local governments, would cut the amount of money municipalities receive from businesses doing work in their jurisdictions. Many agree the current system is incredibly complex and makes it difficult for businesses to operate in multiple municipalities. But opponents of the original bill proposed by GOP lawmakers say the cuts to municipal tax receipts were too deep and, taken with other recent cuts to tax receipts, could hamper cities’ abilities to provide services. Cincinnati could have lost as much as $3 million a year from those cuts. The compromised bill minimizes some of those losses by keeping the municipal tax on items a company ships to places where it doesn’t have a storefront.
• A slightly fictionalized Hamilton County Christmas play in one act:
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil:
Hey guys, can I get a Harley? Maybe two Harleys? I want them for Christmas. They get better gas mileage than cars and the city taught us how to ride them.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel: I don’t know. Ask Greg Hartmann.
Sheriff Neil: He wrote me a letter. He said I have to wait.
Hartmann: Jim, I can’t believe you’re asking for this right now. You know money is tight and we can’t afford two Harleys. We’ve gotta tighten our belts, you know. Have you thought about a nice used Suzuki? Or maybe some bicycles? Red Bike is big right now.
Sheriff Neil: But everyone else is asking for cool wheels, too.
Monzel: We’ll just have to wait and see what Santa brings. We already gave you those cars you asked for.
• Surprise, surprise: House Speaker John Boehner, who is camped out in his safely Republican district just north of Cincinnati, doesn’t want any changes to the way Ohio draws its congressional districts. He says that having one party dominate the process isn’t a problem because both parties have done so over the years and that everyone working on rule changes for redistricting should see what shakes out in Arizona. The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to that state’s constitutional amendment cutting the state legislature out of redistricting in favor of an independent panel, a similar arrangement to some proposals for reforming Ohio’s redistricting process. But let’s not be hasty about working to change the process that has created Ohio’s ridiculously gerrymandered districts, Boehner says.
"For 40 years the Democrat Party had the pencil in their hands, and for the last 20 years we've had the pencil," Boehner told The Enquirer yesterday. "When you've got the pencil in your hand, you're going to use it to the best of your advantage."
• CityBeat contributor Ben Kaufman, who writes our "On Second Thought" column and "Curmudgeon Notes," tipped me off to this great exchange. Apparently, Enquirer parent company Gannett is reaching out to veteran journalists seeking help recruiting “leaders for the newsroom of tomorrow,” whatever that means. Gannett has been sugar-coating layoffs with this newsroom of tomorrow thing for a while and has even gone so far as to make reporters reapply for their jobs in a Hunger Games-esque battle for employment. A recruiter got a less than favorable response from three-decade veteran journalist Rick Arthur, who has been an editor at major newspapers and magazines. Arthur responds to the missive, which is, after all, not recruiting him but simply asking for help in recruiting others, with the following:
“I would never refer anyone to Gannett, an organization that has such disdain for copy editors and that treats its employees so shabbily, and whose executives, publishers and editors willfully deny that there are problems while creating — for the second time in a decade — the laughably Orwellian 'Newsroom of the Future.'
All the best, Rick”
• Finally, there’s continued anger around the nation over unarmed people, especially people of color, dying at the hands of police. Two brief developments:
A grand jury in New York yesterday declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner, who Pantaleo put in a chokehold. Pantaleo died moments after the confrontation in an ambulance and can be heard on a video of the incident telling officers repeatedly he couldn’t breathe. The grand jury decision has sparked protests in New York City.
In Cleveland, there are new revelations in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who police shot on a playground. The officer involved in that shooting, Timothy Loehman, was asked to leave another police force in the small town of Independence, Ohio, in 2012 after being deemed unfit to serve there. Loehman reportedly had an emotional breakdown on a shooting range and was “uncommunicative and weepy” during the incident, reports on his dismissal say. The report also calls his performance with a weapon “dismal.”
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.”