Friday, June 07, 2002

Felons need not apply for break on charges from riots

Amnesty demand rebuffed

By Kevin Aldridge,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hundreds of curfew violators from last year's riots may get help in clearing their criminal records, but convicted felons won't be so fortunate.

        Three-fourths of the 65 adults convicted of serious, riot-related crimes had committed previous crimes, county records show. That makes them ineligible for expungement, the legal process that can clear a first criminal offense from a person's record.

Mike Allen
Mike Allen
        “It's just not going to happen,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said Thursday. “Over my dead body.”

        Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), the city's race relations panel, said Wednesday that it plans to help expunge the criminal records of about 200 of 800 people convicted of curfew violations, loitering and other misdemeanors during the riots.

        But CAN said it would not help people convicted of more serious crimes, felonies including arson, burglary and assault.

        Amnesty for all rioters and early release of those still jailed are demands of the Cincinnati Black United Front, one of three groups leading a boycott of Cincinnati entertainment and conventions.

        Mr. Allen also said Thursday that he will “strenuously oppose” any efforts to obtain early release for 17 felons still serving time in jail.

        Records in the prosecutor's office show that of the 65 felons:

        • Forty-nine had been convicted of previous crimes, including theft, forgery, aggravated armed robbery, breaking and entering, criminal trespass, drug possession, domestic violence and a variety of traffic offenses.

        • Twenty have been arrested and charged with crimes since the riots. They range from felonious assault and carrying a concealed weapon to joyriding and leaving the scene of an accident.

        • Two violated probation after serving time for their riot-related felonies.

        “It boggles the mind to think we can forgive people who caused so much economic and emotional devastation,” Mr. Allen said.

        Ohio law says that a person convicted of a first misdemeanor can apply for expungement a year after the conviction. A convicted felon can apply after three years.

        A judge makes the final determination based on factors including whether the person has stayed out of trouble.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front, applauded CAN's effort to help clear curfew violators' records. He said he hopes, too, that the race commission will look at helping clear the records of the other 600 or so people charged with misdemeanors.

        “CAN needs to be commended,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said Thursday. “This is a positive step toward the healing that everybody wants to see in this city.”

        But when asked whether he will press for the same treatment for riot felons, the Rev. Mr. Lynch refused to answer.

        On its Web site, the Black United Front continues to demand that total amnesty be granted to “all persons detained, arrested and jailed because of the rebellion and the resulting city curfew.”

        Mayor Charlie Luken said he supports CAN's expungement initiative for first-time offenders, but his position on amnesty for all rioters has not changed.

        “I have no power to grant amnesty, and even if I did, I would not grant amnesty to rioters,” Mr. Luken has said. “And I'm not going to spend a lot of time sitting down with people to negotiate about it. And for them to continue to demand it just makes any coming together that much more difficult.”


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