TAMIR GRAND JURY RULING HARD TO SWALLOW

December 29th, 2015

It’s difficult to determine if County Prosecutor Tim McGinty’s handling of the Tamir Rice grand jury was a fix, or just badly botched.

But the smell isn’t pleasant in this holiday-conveniently released decision.

The prosecution was marked by paid but seemingly biased “reports” to McGinty’s unprecedented allowance of the police officers to read statements to the jury yet avoid any questioning. It leaves a distasteful flavor to anyone who has watched trial movies or congressional hearings involving those who take the Fifth Amendment as a dodge to answering questions. They don’t get both choices.

McGinty also recommended to the jury that there be no charges. He really directed the verdict.

It’s clear that the shooting of the 12-year old, less than two seconds after the skidding arrival of a Cleveland police car, and all caught on tape, cried out for more than a clear bill of no offense. The tape was an indictment and put a lie to the declaration of the police.

(Mayor Frank Jackson didn’t give us any confidence in what the city might do. In a short press conference the mayor, in his typical nonsensical manner, promised not just a process to examine the tragedy but a “due process.” His emphasis was silly. What other kind of process would such an exam entail? Undue process? And more than a year after the fact?)

You have to wonder why McGinty, who brought indictment charges against officer Michael Brelo in the 137-bullet, absurd 60 or more Cleveland police car chase that led to the death of two fleeing blacks, didn’t do the same with the tragically flawed officer, Timothy Loehmann. And then let a jury or judge determine the result. Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed in the car chase. Brelo almost manically fired numerous shots from the hood of their stalled car. They couldn’t have been deader.

McGinty even subsequently filed an appeal to the Brelo non-indictment decision, made by Judge John O’Donnell. How could he be so blind in the Tamir case?

McGinty’s actions in the Rice case seemed directed by a desire for a no charge resolution. It just didn’t make sense.

Was this because his pursuit of Brelo enraged the Cleveland Police establishment? Did McGinty play politics by doing the opposite with officer Loehmann? Did he want to placate the police and its union? I’d say yes.

If he did he has opened himself to opposition in his re-election bid.

And that seems a real problem for us here in Cuyahoga County.

It’s an invitation to more unsavory politics in Cuyahoga County.

It could signal also use of African-American politicians to return to power elements of the former prosecutor Bill Mason’s west side backers who hardly auger good politics for blacks.

Many blacks abstained in a recent vote by Democrats to endorse either McGinty or Michael O’Malley who would represent interests of the former County Prosecutor. Neither was endorsed.

McGinty faces opposition from former assistant prosecutor Michael O’Malley. O’Malley was a run of the mill Cleveland City Councilman and the brother of disgraced Pat O’Malley, former city councilman and county recorder.

Cleveland Magazine described O’Malley this way in a comprehensive piece.

Not long ago, O’Malley, an ex-wrestler, Old Brooklyn brawler and working-class charmer, was a power broker in Cuyahoga County. Along with his college roommate, county prosecutor Bill Mason, he led a feared faction of the Democratic Party that helped elect an army of public officials across the West Side and almost won him a job as a county commissioner, one of the most powerful positions in Northeast Ohio government.

“Pat O’Malley’s career ended when he resigned when he was found guilty of ‘receiving obscene materials,'” according to the magazine.

The Mason & O’Malley combine came close to taking a County Commissioner’s seat when Patrick ran against the eventual winner Peter Lawson Jones, an African-American. It was a bitter battle.

Mason’s reign as Prosecutor was marred by the absence of any indictments or action against Sheriff Gerry McFaul, County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and County Auditor Frank Russo, all convicted by other means. Mason saw no corruption.

I remember Pat O’Malley trying to entice me to meet Mason when that team was trying to assume more power in the Democratic Party in the County.

The magazine piece detailed O’Malley’s actions in the billboard deal that I had caught and reported about. The magazine noted:

Physical conflict, at home or abroad, did not cause O’Malley’s downfall. Instead, his career’s end was set in motion several years ago when his involvement in a business deal attracted the interest of the FBI. No charges resulted from the billboard investigation, but it led investigators down a twisting path that eventually led to the porn charge this year.

In 2001, journalist Roldo Bartimole saw O’Malley, in his fifth year as county recorder, with several other men at City Hall.

“I asked him pointedly what he was doing sitting there with a team of suits,” Bartimole wrote on his blog this spring. O’Malley said he was trying to broker a deal between council and then-mayor Michael White to allow large highway billboards, Bartimole wrote. (O’Malley and White were bitter foes.)

I asked O’Malley what he was getting in return for his brokering. Oh, of course, nothing, he said. Just a public service. No quid pro quo for you, I asked him? “None at all, he proclaimed.”

He made $441,000 on the billboard deal, documents obtained by Cleveland Magazine later revealed.

The Mason-O’Malley political desires were insatiable. And remain a red alarm signal to us now.

They moved in the past to control city politics. In 2001 the combo maneuvered to dump some Cleveland City Council members, including veteran Mike Polensek. It was a bid for total Democratic power.

In an intriguing set of political moves individuals connected with the O’Malley-Mason positions worked to dump a number of sitting council members.

Polensek got a telephone call from someone who admitted he had helped his opponent in exchange for favorable treatment on a pending drug charge. Polensek, wise in years of city politics, arranged to meet the individual. He also contacted the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI.

I wrote at the time: “Polensek drove to an agreed-upon site, backed his car in – for a quick get-away if necessary… and waited.”

The man showed up as did the FBI. The man, Marcel Godfrey, told the agents he had been offered help to reduce felony drug charges if he assisted Polensek’s opponent. Godfrey was to use his race, African-American, to counter Polensek in his mixed race ward.

I wrote:

But according to Polensek, Godfrey’s claim is made more disturbing by a meeting the council president says he had about a week before their encounter, with two people sent to him by County Recorder Patrick O’Malley—Ken Dowell of the group BUILD (Blacks United in Local Democracy) and Dennis Roberts, an assistant prosecutor in Bill Mason’s office.

Dowell had admitted to me that BUILD was campaigning for several council challengers.

I further wrote at the time:

The friendly connection between O’Malley and Mason, along with the combination of Dowell and Roberts, employees of O’Malley and Mason, respectively, suggest the need for a special prosecutor to look into these election shenanigans.

Mason, at the time, said he contacted the FBI and they found “no cause to proceed.” He promised he would investigate, but nothing happened, of course.

Another worrisome aspect here is the almost total lack of institutional memory of the Plain Dealer. It’s staffed by some good young people but the history isn’t there. We don’t get relevant information necessary to voters.

The community now is left adrift by the tragic mishandling of the Tamir Rice killing. Plus the danger of a return of prosecutorial power to sullied hands.

Mansfield Fraser in Cool Cleveland sounded the warning before the court decision:

…on to the recent meeting of the Democratic Executive Committee at John Hay High School, where both Tim McGinty and Michael O’Malley were vying for the party’s endorsement, which neither of them got due to the rather large number of delegates abstaining. Does this outcome portend signs of life and intelligence among black voters? We shall see.

Yes, we shall.

By Roldo Bartimole…

6 Responses to “TAMIR GRAND JURY RULING HARD TO SWALLOW”

  1. Garry Kanter says:

    Greatest article about Mason I have ever read.
    How is he not in jail?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Garry.

  3. Jeff Hess says:

    The Guardian this morning has a piece—Ties That Bind—that strikes to the heart of this issue.

    To win his election campaign and oust the top state prosecutor in Omaha, Nebraska, Don Kleine first needed to secure the support of an influential group of voters.

    Promising a return to “tough on crime” priorities, and attacking the incumbent county attorney’s new rehabilitative programs, Kleine clinched the endorsements of the region’s major police unions – and their thousands of dollars in election campaign contributions.

    Ever since his 2006 victory, Kleine has relied on the officers of those unions to help him convict everyday criminals. Omaha officer Alvin Lugod, for instance, was called to appear as a prosecution witness a dozen times, according to records released by Kleine’s office.

    Yet when Officer Lugod was facing possible criminal charges himself in February for fatally shooting an unarmed man in the back, Kleine saw no reason to step aside. Instead, the prosecutor oversaw a secret grand jury process that declined to indict his colleague.

    The case was one of 217 this year where a police officer who killed someone was cleared of wrongdoing in a process led by a prosecutor who typically works alongside the officer’s department.

    Unless those directly involved are willing to rise up remove those responsible from office and elect those willing and able to bring about real and fundamental change, the numbers of The Counted will continue to rise.

    The whole world may be watching this summer as the GOP comes to Cleveland.

  4. Sid Wolfe says:

    Roldo:

    Exciting to see you still going strong and pulling no punches. Send me your phone # at the above e-mail address so we could try to catch up.
    We were just in Cleveland for 36 hours last weekend to spend much time with the about-to- close Art Museum’s Painting the Modern Garden, closing next Tuesday.

  5. Yes, I’m still here Sid, for whatever that means but the music never changes. Thanks for writing,

    Roldo

  6. […] present dispute between McGinty and elements of the black community— TAMIR GRAND JURY RULING HARD TO SWALLOW—should be resolved for the benefit of all of us. It would be a disservice to the community to […]

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