Steubenville Rape Case: What About The Victim

Last week, Judge Thomas Lipps ruled that the upcoming Steubenville Ohio gang rape trial involving 2 Big Red high school football players and a 16-year-old girl will be open to the public and the media against the objections of the prosecution and the victim’s family.

Why?

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, ” (Judge) Lipps noted the names of the defendants and the details of the case were in the public realm and the alleged victim’s name also was made public by some media. He noted there have been “community rumors” and “misinformation” circulated–a problem the judge said could be curbed by keeping the case open. Responsible media presence will mean more accurate reporting. Lipps also said the seriousness of the charges meant the public has an interest in the outcome.”

Misinformation and community rumors happen in nearly every case, why the interest in curbing it in this case?

Judge Lipps also said it was “important to have open proceedings to squelch talk and opinions about the case that have sprouted in social media and elsewhere online. An open hearing will diminish the influence of such postings and publications”, as reported in the Toledo Blaze.

Interesting comment. But for the social media evidence, the texts, tweets and cellphone video would there have been a prosecution? Surely, the judge didn’t mean to imply an interest in “diminishing” free speech and free press rights?

So, curbing “rumors”, “misinformation”, “talk” and “diminishing the influence of postings and publications” trumps the impact of an open trial on a 16-year-old rape victim? The defense has raised the “intimidation” concern, what about a victim’s “right to be free from intimidation” under Ohio’s Victim’s Bill of Rights Ohio Revised Code 2930. Maybe, it doesn’t apply to juvenile victims? Or, maybe a 16-year-old rape victim wouldn’t be intimidated by testifying in public? (See more info on Victim’s Rights)

What about the defendant’s right to a fair trial? Isn’t avoiding potential harm to our children more important than curbing “rumors” and “talk”? Besides, what “rumors”, “talk” and “misinformation” is the judge referring to? And, who or what is harmed by such “talk”?

How many other juvenile victims will have the courage to come forward now and face the glare and scrutiny of the media, their neighbors and the “talk” of the town?

In many jurisdictions, juvenile proceedings are closed to the public to afford confidentiality and privacy for the juvenile offenders. Judges can certainly close juvenile proceedings to the public upon the substantial probability of harm to the parties, or emotional trauma of testifying in public, especially in sexual assault cases. Since the US Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in on whether the public has a constitutional right to access juvenile proceedings, the decision is left to the court to decide.

In Ohio, it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to have an open proceeding. (See Ohio Revised Code 2151.35)

I wonder if Judge Lipps has ever represented a rape victim?

Simply my opinion, what say you?

You may want to read my other related posts DOJ sues Steubenville Police Department civil rights violations, Ohio & Indian Rape cases asks us all one question and impact of testifying on a victim.


Brent Musburger Comments: Are Women Possessions?

You tell me, did ESPN Sportscaster Brent Musburger’s comments, during last Monday’s Alabama v. Notre Dame Football game, about the QB’s girlfriend, Miss Alabama’s Katherine Webb, place a value on women? Objectify women?

Brent Musburger said, “you see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I’ll admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama, and that’s A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend. Wow, I’m telling ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman! Whoa! So if you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops.”

CNN contributor, Dean Obeidallah, along with many others immediately dismissed Musburger’s comments as “playful” or otherwise, and they wonder why the “instant outrage”.

Are women possessions? Do men, young men or football players “get” women?

Although Mr. Obeidallah, a former attorney, did identify the problem (and the reason for the outrage) when he said, “The only criticism that’s arguably fair is Musburger’s implication that if you are great quarterback, you will have earned a beautiful woman– a reward, more than a human being. If that had been Musburger’s intention, that, of course, would have been wrong.”, he also doesn’t realize the damage. When you use words like “get” or earned” in reference to women, there is no implication or confusion as to what is meant. We all immediately understood the “implication”, as evidenced by the instant outrage. (Read his full article here)

When you place a value on or objectify any woman, you devalue all women. And, when women are devalued, women are fired for being “too attractive”, paid less, denied access to health care, lawful abortions, forced to submit to invasive vaginal probes, forced genital mutilation, forced into prostitution, trafficked for sex, beaten by their partners, raped and, gang raped, allegedly, in Steubenville Ohio and New Delhi India. (Read my prior article here)

I can tell you, as a former domestic violence prosecutor, the words and implications do matter.

And, gentlemen, hats off, for, unknowingly, opening up the discussion and shining the light on how women are valued, or, not valued.

Simply my opinion, what say you?


Ohio Gang Rape: DOJ Found Steubenville Police Misconduct in 1997

Turns out, the protests claiming a “police cover-up” or “corruption” by the Steubenville Police Department and City Leaders to protect a group of local “Big Red” high school football players allegedly involved in the gang rape of a teenage girl were to be expected.

Why?

In 1997, the US Department of Justice found a “pattern or practice of” civil rights violations by the Steubenville Police Department including excessive use of force, false arrests, false charges, tampering with evidence, false reporting, and political corruption resulting in a lawsuit against the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, the City Manager, and the Civil Service Commission.

The DOJ alleged in the Steubenville lawsuit, “that officers of the Steubenville Police Department have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges,or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, and the Steubenville City Manager (in his capacity as Director of Public Safety) have caused and condoned this conduct through inadequate policies and failure to train, monitor, supervise, and discipline police officers, and to investigate alleged misconduct, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 14141.” (US v. City of Steubenville, Steubenville Police Department, Steubenville City Manager, in his capacity as director of Public Safety, and Steubenville Civil Service Commission, Civil No. C2 97-966, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, August 28, 1997.)

Over a twenty year period, the city (Steubenville) lost, or settled out of court, 48 civil rights lawsuits involving its police force. The city paid out more than $800,000, $400,000 of which was between 1990 and 1996. As a result, the city’s police force became the second city in the United States to sign a consent decree with the federal government due to an excessive number of civil rights lawsuits, as stated on wikipedia.com. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steubenville,_Ohio)

Ouch.

As a settlement, the City of Steubenville agreed to a Court Consent Decree allowing for monitoring of the Steubenville police department by the DOJ and the implementation of an extensive list of changes to the police department’s training program, police procedures including the creation of an internal affairs unit to handle police complaints. Read full consent decree here.

This all may just be old news from 14 years ago, but, when the DOJ finds a “pattern or practice'” of civil rights violations and police misconduct, most attorneys will continue to look under the hood, especially, given that the current gang rape investigation was done and remains in the hands of the Steubenville Police Department. As we all know, cases can be won or lost depending on what a police officer/investigation did or didn’t do. Just ask OJ Simpson.

So, what’s changed in Steubenville? Has there been a significant reduction in the number of civil rights lawsuits and police complaints? Have the players changed? I can’t tell by the City’s new “transparent” website, but, I did find out that the current police chief and others did not go to the same Big Red high school as the defendant football players. (http://steubenvillefacts.squarespace.com/).

However, I did notice that Steubenville’s attorney has not changed. Mr. Gary Rapella, Steubenville’s law director, was the attorney of record back in 1997 for all the Steubenville defendants during the DOJ lawsuit and his name appears today as the law director. (http://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PN-OH-0002-0003.pdf) Having been a deputy city attorney myself, I presume that Mr. Rapella continues to provide legal advice to the Steubenville Police Department, City Council and the City of Steubenville on the handling of their current police cases including the current gang rape investigation, media scrutiny and public protests.

On most days, police departments and city officials walk a tough line. Yet, these days, it may be wiser to call in an outside agency to handle the prosecution and the investigation of a potentially high-profile case (think Penn State and Duke) to avoid allegations of a “cover-up”, the intense media scrutiny and the expected public protests (Anonymous'”Occupy Steubenville”) especially, when the jurisdiction has a marked history of police misconduct and civil rights violations. Not to mention, the potential of jeopardizing the underlying case.

The question remains has Steubenville learned the lessons of the past.

Simply my opinion, what say you?

(Update 1/31/2013: In the Ohio gang rape case, Judge Thomas R. Lipps denied the defense’s request for change of venue and trial will be open to media against the wishes of the victim’s family and the prosecution. Media lawyers had requested open proceedings. Trial date continued to March 13 in juvenile court.)

(Update 1/10/2013: Please read the comments, including those from Steubenville Attorney (and NAACP chair) Richard Olivito whose case “kicked” off the DOJ police misconduct investigation…he is still shining the light…)

(Update: 1/8/2013: As to what’s changed? It was not until 2005 that the Steubenville police department was found in full compliance with the 1997 court-ordered consent decree. During those 8 years, the court-appointed auditor Charles Reynolds filed quarterly reports, noting problems including with “supervision and discipline” of officers.http://www.parc.info/client_files/Newsletters/2002/7%20-%20novemberbpr02.pdf. The current police chief, William McCafferty, has been with the police department since 1989, thus, he was on the force during the time of the “excessive” “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations resulting in the consent decree. He was promoted to acting police chief in 2001, as many officers had left as they “didn’t want any part of the consent decree”. In 2003, he became the permanent police chief when the DOJ allowed him to be sworn in. His interview is worth the read. I wonder if it may have been a better idea to have an outside police chief, rather than promote one who was “trained” and “raised” in an environment that required a DOJ (taxpayer) lawsuit to get the police officers and the police department in compliance with the law. http://www.parc.info/client_files/Newsletters/2005/4%20-%20aprilppr05.pdf. Also, I wonder if the Steubenville police training includes the proper recovery and preservation of certain forensic evidence like cell phones, videos and tweets.

(Update 1/6/2013: As just reported on CNN, a defense attorney claims that the alleged victim sent a text to his client stating that the “rape didn’t happen” and that the attorney doesn’t think “she (victim) thinks she was raped”. The other defense attorney when asked about the issue of consent and alcohol, stated that the victim “was conscious”. What? This is an alleged gang rape case–who consents to a gang rape? Speaking as a former DV prosecutor, rape is about power, control, humiliation and violence. It is not about love or sex, and given those dynamics, alleged victim recantation is not a surprise and it doesn’t stop a prosecution in light of other physical and witness evidence. BTW in Ohio, it’s not a statutory rape case if the victim is 16, the age of consent. The defendants were charged as juveniles as the age of an adult is 18 and charging as an adult is up to the judge. Lastly, as to the police department, I wonder why no adult including the football coach who reportedly hosted one of the parties that August night where alcohol was allegedly served hasn’t been charged with any offense. Apparently, as reported on CNN, no other defendants will be charged in the alleged gang rape case. For rape crisis services, please contact http://www.rccmsc.org/faq.aspx or National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE; suspected civil rights violation contact US DOJ at http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/#one )