PROSECUTOR MIKE O’MALLEY SPEAKS TO THE COMMUNITY - Part 1
Minister Dale Edwards and Bishop Eugene Ward sat down with Prosecutor O’Malley in a candid conversation about his accomplishments, aggravations, bail, the County jail and many other relevant issues. Questions were asked and answers were given that reflect the mission of the Prosecutor as well as various methods used in the execution of his duties in this most important position in City government. Prosecutor O’Malley has faithfully served Cleveland with just judgments and rendered decisions based on facts presented during tough times without prejudice, malice or forethought. Prosecutor O’Malley has been exemplary in the execution of his duties as Prosecutor. I am grateful for his time and the attention he gave us answering our questions and addressing our concerns. Our community was crying for change and Prosecutor O’Malley answered the call to service with duty, diligence and responsibility.
Good Morning Prosecutor O’Malley
O’Malley: Good morning and thank you. I am comfortable with anything that you ask.
Question: You have been in office almost three years. What do you consider to be your:
a. Greatest accomplishments b. Worst aggravation c. Most extreme disdain with the office
O’Malley: I think our biggest accomplishments, and I say “our” because nothing is done alone. I think our biggest accomplishment is working with the juvenile court, creating an Intervention Center that when juveniles are arrested that they are evaluated, placed in diversionary programs trying to get to the root of the cause of why they are having an interaction with the juvenile justice system at such a young age. Trying to do whatever we can to steer them in the right direction. You know, because you are there Bishop Ward, that working with Judge Kristin Sweeney, who has been a marvelous collaborator in working with the administration of the juvenile court to form an intervention center. Second, the charging process of the juvenile cases was very lax and there were cases, which were falling through the cracks. Again, working with Judge Sweeney in the juvenile court administration we now have a process when an individual gets into legal difficulty, we can quickly bring them in and like a parenting situation, we step in quickly for some type of resolution. If someone does wrong and you don’t address it for 4-5 weeks they may not get the understanding that when you do something that there is an immediate reaction. By fixing the charging system the juvenile, when he does interact, we can get them to the intervention system center; evaluate what they have done so that they know there is some type of repercussion. That it is not, if you have done wrong on one day… that, it is not 6 or 8 weeks before there is a necessary reaction. When that is done, you lose the cause and effect of the situation. You lose your ability to teach them. It’s a teaching moment. When our youth do wrong we need to quickly bring them in, teach them that this is not the right path, that there will be repercussions. We will put you in diversion, place you on probation or whatever it may be, but if you don’t quickly bring them in and teach them that there are people out here that are watching and that we are making certain that you do good. If you don’t do that quickly you are losing the quality of cause and effect. I think to myself that this is one of the best things, which we have done by fixing the charging system. Another accomplishment is working with our criminal division chief, Russ Tye, who leads our Conviction Integrity Unit. In less than three years, we have reviewed the conviction of five individuals where we have overturned their convictions due to change in science, change in testimony and we have been able to conclude that they really do not belong in prison. Continually working with Russ Tye and the Conviction Integrity Unit, we have gone to the court and it has led to these people being able to walk freely on our streets. Whether it is Rue Alsailor or Nevin King, whether they are individuals who were previously locked up, and would still be locked up, but for the fact that we are proactive now and doing what we can to right injustice.
Question: What has been your worst aggravation?
O’Malley: My worst aggravation is that the justice system has many players. As the County Prosecutor, I only have control of my area. Often times significant change requires the work of multiple parties working together to bring about change. I’d say that the greatest aggravation that I have is that I want many areas to be fixed immediately. Some things I have no power or control of whatsoever. Its aggravating that I see a need for change and that I am not able to accomplish it because it does not fall within my silo. It is something that I cannot control. I believe that we should expand eligibility for Drug Court. I’ve been asking for it for 2 years and 9 months since I came into this office. I asked for it before I was elected. I said, “Here is a problem that we have in our system, is that more people need to be eligible.” However, due to the criteria of Drug Court there are people who would be good candidates who are eliminated from participating in what is a good program due to a previous record or conviction. In this, I believe that we are doing the community a disservice by shrinking the pool of eligible candidates.
Question: Do you have any areas of extreme disdain with the office?
O’Malley: I wouldn’t say that I have any areas of disdain. When I came into the office, I think in the community there was a lack of confidence in the system. I believe that since we have come to the office we are beginning to build up and restore confidence in the criminal justice system.
Question: What is your view on Bail Reform and the County Jail Situation?
O’Malley: Bail reform, when I ran I stated that we immediately need bail reform. We need to get individuals who are currently incarcerated and who are currently awaiting trial we need to get them out of the County jail. We need a bail system that is not dependent on wealth or position in the community. We need a system, which evaluates a person’s risk to the community. That should be the only factor determining in their being held or not held in the jail. We must remove the money factor from this equation. Too often people of low-income means who do not earn the income of others are unfairly held. When they are being held it destroys their families, employment opportunities, housing opportunities, they cannot pay rent, cell phone, car insurance…all of these areas are of a great concern. When we are unfairly holding people because of their inability to come up with $100, or a thousand dollars and we hold them, we are doing a disservice to the individual and to the community.
Question: So do you have a conversation or relationship with the Administrative and Presiding Judge
John J. Russo? Do you have discussions on Bail Bond reform?
O’Malley: We have a professional relationship and he certainly knows my position on Bail Reform. That is a matter for the court. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice, Maureen O’Connor spoke recently and stated that we need to change the current bail system. I am hopeful that this gives confidence to the judiciary that this is the right thing to do. We don’t control the bail bond in the Prosecutor’s office.
Question: The bail bond commissioner doesn’t work for the prosecutor at all.
O’Malley: They have a team of people who work for the judiciary and they work in the arraignment room. They work for the judges, not the prosecution.
Question: Without discussing the case, how did the County come to file charges against the Mayor’s grandson and the City of Cleveland did not ion this sensitive situation?
O’Malley: I can just say that on that particular case, what I know about the City of Cleveland is what I read in the newspaper and what everyone else has read. In the County Prosecutor’s office that arrest and report, a very detailed 23 page report which is compiled by the CMHA Police Department came to our attention. Witnesses, and there were several witnesses, that were contained in the police report. Witnesses were reached and there was a determination made that there was belief for probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed. Those facts were presented to the Grand Jury and they came back with an indictment. It was a very detailed report. CMHA detectives and police officers did a very good job in the presentation of a report including independent witnesses and including a video of the fleeing of the car. So there was, with the presentation and the Grand Jury, enough evidence as well as what was previously reported in the media enough evidence to indict. They determined that it was more than what is presented in most cases according to the Grand Jury foreman and staff.
Question: In the case of Lance Mason, did the prosecution get what they were asking for in his sentencing?
O’Malley: As the Prosecutor of Cuyahoga County and what I try to tell my assistants, we always try to do what is right on the behalf of the victims. The victim’s family, in that particular case was looking for life without parole. A visiting judge, who was appointed because all of the common pleas judges recusing themselves, made a determination that Mr. Mason would be eligible for parole in 35 years, which brings him roughly to the age of 87 or 88. Therefore, while it is not what the family wanted, as County Prosecutor I thought it was a fitting sentence. Often times you have families that want more, but you have to go with what the judge says. That was why after the sentencing I did not criticize the sentencing court. I thought that he did the best he could. The family was unhappy but in the end the victim’s mother, even when she spoke she stated, “He will be in there for a long time.” As the judge indicated, hopefully Mr. Mason will make an impact while he is in there. He is an educated smart man. Obviously, he had serious significant issues and did an act of violence that was horrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever known what he did ever happening to another human being. It is inexcusable. It was devastating to those two children who witnessed it. It was a horror that they may never erase from their mind. Domestic violence is a terrible, terrible crime. Its effects go beyond the victim because it goes to the family. It goes down through the generations that perhaps this behavior is passed down through generations. It is something that we need to stop in this community. Those acts were something of which I had never witnessed before to that magnitude. It was a very difficult case. It had a huge effect on the citizens of this community. Again, my prayers are with that family. Aisha Fraser was an only child. It was just a tragic case. I pray for her, her family, her parents and especially those two children.
Question: Did the question of his mental stability ever come before the court?
O’Malley: My recollection on that particular case is that they did some testing, but the reality was that there were no mental issues. There were issues of abuse and even during the sentencing, at the end; I was very troubled at his lack of acceptance and his own way of trying to rationalize for the horrific crimes that he committed. I sat there and shook my head as he tried to pass the reason for his own actions. To me that was extremely troubling.
To be continued...