Thursday, June 06, 2002

CAN to assist in clearing records

Minor offenses from 2001 riots may be expunged

By Kevin Aldridge,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) plans to help dozens — possibly hundreds — of people who were cited for curfew violations during last year's riots get their criminal records cleared.

        A group of lawyers on the race commission's police and justice system action team told the Enquirer Wednesday that they will work with first-time offenders arrested during the unrest to help expunge their records.

        CAN officials said the move is not in response to any boycott demands, but instead a desire to remove blots on otherwise clean records.

        “We are operating within the bounds of legal propriety and there is no special treatment involved in this,” said Mike Barrett, a co-chair of CAN's police and justice team. “We don't want these folks in a situation where they might miss out on educational or job opportunities because of what happened during the unrest.”

        A CAN study of city court records pointed to 44 individuals who would be eligible for expungement because of no prior offenses. But CAN leaders said as many as 200 more with minor blemishes on their criminal records could also be candidates.

        Expungement means a person can apply to a judge to have his criminal record removed. To qualify for expungement, the applicant normally must be a first-time offender.

        CAN officials said, however, a provision in the law might allow for offenders with only minor offenses on their records, such as traffic tickets, to catch a break as well.

        Cincinnati CAN Co-chairman Ross Love said the task force will work in conjunction with the Cincinnati Bar Association, Cincinnati Black Lawyers Association and Legal Aid to make certain candidates are aware of the program.

        CAN leaders are also looking at the possibility of waiving the $50 application fee.

        “From my point of view, this is a good thing,” said Mayor Charlie Luken, who formed the race commission within days of the riots in April 2001. “If CAN wants to assist people whose sole violation is a curfew violation, then I think that should be encouraged.”

        However, the mayor remained firm on his stance that rioters guilty of more serious offenses should not be granted amnesty, as boycotters have demanded.

        More than 800 people, mostly youths from neighborhoods outside Over-the-Rhine, were arrested and charged with crimes three days of civil unrest.

        Many were arrested for loitering, curfew violations and other misdemeanors. However, 65 adults were charged and convicted of felonies such as arson, burglary and assault.

        Amnesty for those arrested during last year's riots is one of the key demands of the Cincinnati Black United Front, which is one of several groups urging a boycott of Cincinnati.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front, has said amnesty is warranted for people arrested during the riots under what he considers a selectively enforced night-time curfew. He said the issue of whether amnesty should be issued for more serious crimes can be dealt with later.

        The BUF defines amnesty to mean expungement and releasing from jail anyonestill serving time because of the riots.

        City Prosecutor Ernest McAdams said everyone arrested for curfew violations during the riots has already gone through the legal process. Most spent only a few hours in jail.

        CAN leaders said they wanted to be clear that they are not seeking amnesty.

        “We are targeting people arrested for curfew violations, not more serious offenses,” Mr. Love said. “This is a normal process under Ohio law that would be available to these individuals anyway. We are just taking on the responsibility of making people aware of their legal remedies.”


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