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by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 102 days ago
Posted In: News at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Crawford Family to File Lawsuit Over Police Shooting

Suit names officers, Beavercreek police chief and Walmart

The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old Fairfield man a Beavercreek police officer shot Aug. 5 in a Walmart, is filing a lawsuit against Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, officers Sean Williams and David Darkow and the Walmart corporation, the family’s lawyers announced today via a news release.

Officer Williams shot Crawford, a Fairfield resident who grew up in Cincinnati, in the Walmart after another customer, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 to report a man loading a gun and pointing it at customers in the store. Ritchie later contradicted that statement in interviews with the media, stating Crawford wasn’t actually pointing the gun at anyone. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun sold by Walmart. Video footage of the event released by Attorney General Mike DeWine weeks later does not conclusively show Crawford threatening anyone with the weapon.

A grand jury on Sept. 24 declined to indict Williams for the shooting.

Many have drawn parallels between Crawford’s death and the Aug. 9 police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The incident has sparked months of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Those protests intensified when a St. Louis County grand jury announced Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson.

The Crawford family’s lawyers, as well as Crawford’s father John Crawford, Jr., will hold a press conference in Dayton tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 102 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
protesters washington park

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace activists sentenced; 4th and Race development back on, maybe; video shows harsh police interrogation after Crawford shooting

Morning all. Here’s the news today.

Eight Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging huge banners from P&G headquarters in March were found guilty and sentenced Friday after accepting a deal allowing them to plea down to misdemeanor charges. The group will have to perform 80 hours of community service and will be placed on probation for one year. The group was protesting P&G’s use of palm oil and the company’s role in deforestation. Originally, the group faced felony charges that could have meant more than nine years in prison. Prosecutors offered the plea deal earlier this month after P&G officials said they had begun working with Greenpeace on the issue and signaled they’d like to see a lighter sentence for the activists. A ninth protester died in California last month.

• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on. The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have 208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins. Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could go for a full council vote on Wednesday.

• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!

• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year, while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate. That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the alarming increase in abuse of the drug.

• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.

• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.14.2014 102 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Tape Shows Police Harshly Interrogating John Crawford's Girlfriend

Detective accuses Tasha Thomas of using drugs, waits an hour and a half to tell her Crawford has died

A video released by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine in response to a public records requests by British site The Guardianshows a Beavercreek Police detective berating John Crawford III’s girlfriend about where Crawford got a gun. You can read The Guardian's story and watch the video here

Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.

Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.

“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”

Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."

“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”

“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.

Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.

Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.

“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”

After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.12.2014 105 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Faux out as planning commission head; Silicon Cincy; Congressional budget has big deals for big banks, big donors

Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.

Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.

Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.

Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.

"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."

Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.

Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.

• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.

• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.

• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.

• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.

• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.

Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.

The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.

Have a fun Friday!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: Homelessness, News at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Seelbach Proposes Protecting Homeless Under Hate Crime Laws

Additional proposal would add $45,000 to winter shelter

A proposed city ordinance could add homeless people to groups protected by hate crime laws, making Cincinnati one of just three cities to do so. The proposal by Councilman Chris Seelbach could add up to 180 days in extra jail time for those convicted of crimes against people because they don't have homes.

“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”

Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.

Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.

Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.

“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”

Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.

In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.

“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”

While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.

“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”

Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.

“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.

Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.

Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.

“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Big CUF development gets go-ahead despite controversy; no tax incentives for Ark Park; parking ticket amnesty was on, then off, is now on again

Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.

A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.

• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.

• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.

"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said.  “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”

• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.

• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.

• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.

“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”

Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 107 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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UC Med Students Stage "Die In" to Protest Racial Inequalities

More than 70 students participated in a demonstration mirroring similar events at schools across the country

More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.

That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.

In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a  reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.

A protester reads a passage from the Hippocratic Oath at a demonstration in UC\'s Medical Sciences Building Dec. 10.

 

Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.

“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.

The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.

The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.

A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.

Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.

“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 107 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fund may dwindle; Ohio Board of Education nixes "5 of 8" rule; will Congress meet its budget deadline?

Hey all. I’m about to run out and cover a bunch of stuff, but here’s a quick hit list of what’s up today.

The streetcar’s contingency construction budget may only have about $80,000 unaccounted for, project executive John Dietrick announced yesterday. It started with nearly $8 million. That low number is a worst-case projection, but with 21 months left until construction is finished, it's a very slim cushion. Part of the problem: The city spent $1 million from that fund covering the costs of delaying the streetcar while fighting over whether to continue the project last winter.

• UC students have been staging so-called “die in” demonstrations over the past few days in protest against police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Another one will take place today at noon in the university’s Medical Sciences Building.

• Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will have to wait for an appeal on her felony convictions from jail, Judge Norbert Nadel ruled yesterday. Hunter was convicted on one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract over allegedly interceding in the firing of her brother, a court employee. A jury hung on eight other felony counts in her trial. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics as the county’s first black juvenile court judge. She faces six months in jail.

• State lawmakers have squashed, for now, a highly restrictive “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortions illegal in Ohio after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A vote on the bill was killed by conservative lawmakers who feel the law may be unconstitutional. They say they fear court challenges to the bill could endanger Ohio’s other abortion restrictions.

• The Ohio Board of Education agreed yesterday to strike down the state’s so-called “5 of 8” rule that required schools to hire specialized positions like art teachers and librarians. Boosters say the move gives local districts more control over their budgets, but opponents say it will make it easier for cash-strapped schools to eliminate necessary staff. The bill will next go to the state legislature for approval before coming back to the board for a final vote in March.

• We all have deadlines. Congress’ deadline is Thursday, when our current, hard-won federal budget expires. And while it looks like there won’t be a big, destructive fight over the budget this year resulting in a weeks-long shutdown like last year, it also looks equally likely that Congress won’t get the job done in time. While key congressional leaders agreed last night on a trillion-dollar deal, there are still a lot of bumps in the road before the legislation makes it to the president’s desk.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.09.2014 108 days ago
Posted In: News, Courts at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Democrats to Judge: Defer Hunter's Sentence

Former juvenile court judge faces six months in prison

The court case is over, but issues of race and politics that made it so contentious continue swirling.

 

Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to six months in jail and a year of probation Dec. 5 after she was convicted on one of nine felony counts last month. Hunter asked Nadel to defer her prison sentence until an appeal of her conviction had gone through. Nadel denied that request today and Hunter will most likely be behind bars soon.


Some say justice has been served, but others say the penalty is too harsh and premature. A letter signed by 56 people including many area Democrat leaders to Nadel Dec. 8 asked the judge to defer Hunter’s sentence until after her appeal is heard. The letter says Hunter’s appeal is made on “substantial grounds” and points out that if she goes to jail now and is latter vindicated, it will be a “pyrrhic victory” because she will have already served her sentence by that time. The letter cites the fact Hunter has no previous record and did not stand to gain financially from the crime.

 

It also points out the racial tension over the case and connects it to larger issues of race relations in the region and around the country, as anger continues over recent police killings of unarmed black men and a refusal by grand juries to indict officers in those cases.

 

“All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in dealing with matters involving race,” said the letter sent by the Hamilton County Democratic Party and signed by Chairman Tim Burke, State Senator elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece and other notable party members. “To sentence to jail the only African American to ever be elected to our juvenile court, and one of the very few African Americans to ever be elected in a contested county-wide election in Hamilton County … will only deepen that mistrust. That is particularly true in light of the fact that other first-time offenders under similar circumstances would receive no jail time at all.”

 

Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black judge. After the election for the seat in 2010 went to her opponent by a very narrow margin, she fought a year-and-a-half-long court battle in order to get uncounted votes counted to prove she had won. She came into the position intent on changing a system where black juveniles are 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites.


Almost 80 percent of children arrested in Hamilton County are black, according to a November federal lawsuit by Covington-based Children’s Law Center against the county.

 

That resolve ruffled feathers. Among others, The Cincinnati Enquirer sued her for refusing to let reporters into her courtroom. Hunter’s methods as a judge were unorthodox and her opponents say often illegal.

 

After a long, dramatic trial, Hunter was convicted last month for interceding on behalf of her brother, a juvenile court employee who was fired for allegedly punching an underage inmate. Hunter obtained medical records on that inmate for her brother, prosecutors charged. A jury deadlocked on eight other felony charges involving fraud, misuse of a court credit card, interfering with investigations and forgery. She motioned for a retrial three times, citing three black jurors who recanted their guilty verdicts and procedural irregularities in the courtroom. Judge Nadel denied all three motions.

 

Critics like Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou say Hunter was quite simply a bad judge and that her indictment and conviction have nothing to do with race. Her stature as a judge only makes her transgressions worse, and she should be disciplined accordingly, her critics say. That means jail time for a low-level felony that usually only gets probation.

 

Judge Hunter is a judge and a public official," Nadel said after Hunter was sentenced. "Unfortunately, it may be a felony 4, but that is a double whammy."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.09.2014 108 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati police to get body cameras; early streetcar pass available; Ark Park wants to correct "myths"

All right y’all. After a brief delay while I listened to a presentation about health insurance (as captivating as it sounds) I’m here with the news this morning.

Cincinnati’s 600-strong uniformed police force will eventually be equipped with body cameras after a seven-month pilot program involving West Side officers wrapped up this week. The move comes as activists around the country call for more police accountability in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed citizens. Cincinnati’s body camera program will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on which vendor the city chooses. Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety committee has pledged to help find funds, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell will be making a trip to Washington to ask the federal government for some of the money as well. Officers involved in the pilot program said the cameras they tested aren’t perfect and expressed concerns about privacy for victims of crime and whether what is filmed will end up as public record.  

Some activists around the country have called for federal rules requiring police wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama announced last week an plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help equip police departments with the technology. Others, however, question the efficacy of the method, pointing to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a choke hold by police in July. The officer who placed Garner in a headlock was not indicted by a grand jury despite video footage of the incident.

• Though the streetcar is months away from being operational, you can still give the transit fanatic (or skeptic) in your life a rail-themed Christmas gift. Starting today, SORTA is offering a commemorative early pass for the Cincinnati streetcar allowing unlimited rides for periods of time after the streetcar opens. You can get the $25 card for those members of your family who are afraid of downtown and with whom you argued about the streetcar this Thanksgiving. Maybe some free rides will change their minds. Or they’ll hate it and give it to you to use. Win-win. They, or you, will be able to ride cost-free for the first 15 days the streetcar is operating. You can step it up for the serious streetcar supporter and get the $50 or $100 cards, which give the recipient 30 and 60 days of fare-free riding, respectively. These are the first physical items issued to the public for the transit project, which I’m sure will be interesting to some folks.

• Answers in Genesis, the religious group behind a controversial Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, Ky., has launched a billboard campaign it says seeks to correct “myths” about the project. The park has raised eyebrows because it could receive state tax credits even though its parent company makes its employees sign statements affirming their Christian religious beliefs. If the park did the same with prospective employees, it would not be eligible for help from the state. The state’s Tourism Development Finance Authority has preliminarily approved a 10-year tax incentive package for the park that could be worth up to $18 million on the $73 million project. National advocates for the separation of church and state have cried foul at the deal, saying it violates state and federal non-discrimination laws. The Ark group, however, says they’ll comply with those laws for the park. They’re fighting back with 16 billboards in Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington directing people to their website. They’ve also sprung for an electronic billboard ad running in New York City’s Times Square for some reason.

"With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website, where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding," the group said in an email news release.

• The Ohio Board of Education will meet today and discuss eliminating rules that require public schools in Ohio to hire art and music teachers, librarians and other specialized staff. The so-called “5 of 8” rule could be on the chopping block because some local control advocates say it amounts to an unfunded mandate on local schools from the state. However, those who support the rule say it ensures that all schools have faculty who can teach vital subjects and perform other necessary duties. They say eliminating the rule will hurt low-income students, whose cash-strapped schools will be most likely to drop the positions.

• State Rep. Alicia Reece formally introduced the so-called “John Crawford’s Law” yesterday, which would require toy guns to be brightly colored to distinguish them from real weapons. The bill aims to prevent police shootings like the one that happened in August at a Beavercreek Walmart, where Crawford was shot while holding a BB gun. More recently, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed for holding a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. In a puzzling addition, the law would also limit where a person can carry a BB gun, even though Ohio remains an open carry state where you can tote around your real gun almost anywhere you please.

 
 

 

 

 
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