Sunday, January 09, 2000

No time for the victims




BY PETER BRONSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ohio Crime Victims Compensation Fund is supposed to give money to grief-stricken crime victims. But some only get more grief.

        According to the state's fine print, victims are not really victims unless they witness the murder or find the body of a wife, husband, parent or child.

        With that and other loopholes to exclude “indirect victims,” it's no wonder the fund had a surplus of $28 million in 1998 and has $31 million this year.

        “I'm appalled by the concept that you'd have to see a loved-one murdered or find them dead to get compensation,” said state Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati. “I'm working on my third constituent situation where the state won't pay out, and one where they're trying to take the money back.”

        He's also working to help Linda Pope. When Mrs. Pope asked for help in letters to the governor, attorney general and 18 state and federal lawmakers, only Sen. Mallory replied personally. Apparently, a lot of people would like to forget Mrs. Pope. But she refuses to be forgotten:

        “Some people call me the greedy, angry widow. But guess what: I ain't going anywhere. I'm not going to be the quiet little widow who just goes away.”

        Mrs. Pope's husband, Cincinnati Police Officer Dan Pope, was murdered by a suspect on Dec. 5, 1997, along with Officer Ron Jeter. Since that night, Mrs. Pope has been through a lot for someone who is not a “real” victim.

        The city offered to pay for her husband's funeral — then tried to renege.

        Two 911 operators who fumbled calls while the cops lay dying were reinstated — and Mrs. Pope was not allowed to speak at their hearing.

        She says “a great outpouring of love and support from police officers” gave her strength to get past the early weeks. But she hasn't heard from anyone in the police division since the funeral. Cops placed a wreath to mark the anniversary of the murders, but didn't call Mrs. Pope.

        She retired from her job as a firefighter after she collapsed one night as she tried to enter the same emergency room where she found her husband dead.

        But she's not a real victim. Not in Ohio.

        It's sadly typical to remember criminals and forget their victims. Cincinnati vaguely remembers the murdered cops, but forgot the families they left behind.

        Mrs. Pope remembers it all too clearly. And anyone who says $200,000 in cash and $69,000 a year is enough to replace a policeman and a husband should hear what it was like:

        “Being at the hospital an hour after my husband was killed, seeing him with a hole in his head, watching his body deteriorate with tubes sticking out everywhere, being unable to close his eyes — that's not "immediate aftermath'?”

        Not according to the Ohio Attorney General's office, which refuses to compensate anyone unless “... the person had a direct awareness of the crime or immediate aftermath...”

        Mrs. Pope was notified with a grimly official legal document. No apologies. No sympathy. No compassion.

        Just doubletalk: “In the case of In re Clapacs (1989), 58 Ohio Misc.2d 1, V88-41344 jud (9-5-89)...”

        The final words are like a slamming door: “... the Attorney General recommends that the claim be denied.”

        Sen. Mallory is urging Attorney General Betty Montgomery to reconsider, but doubts it will help. He's also trying to amend the law to redefine victims.

        “How much worse can it get?” he asked. “The average person would think a victim of a crime would get compensation.”

        Instead, they get “58 Ohio Misc.2d” — a bureaucrat's brush-off.

        “To get notified by a form letter was a little cold,” Mrs. Pope said. “They have a $31 million budget and they can't even pay somebody to write a letter?”

        She has lost faith in the system. “The politicians and bureaucrats are not there to help you. They are there to knock you down, beat you up and make you go away.”

        But she won't go away.

        “People ask, "Hasn't she gotten enough?' No, not until my husband walks through the door, and that will never happen. So why shouldn't I fight for benefits? Maybe the next person who comes along won't get a letter like that.” She thinks the Victims Fund “needs a victim in there who has had a wife or child murdered, to humanize them.”

        I nominate Linda Pope.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202; e-mail, letters@enquirer.com.