Friday, March 7, 2003

Convict given 'vacation' from jail

Drug seller also free until his sentencing

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

An illegal gun seller who police touted as a major weapons supplier was let out of jail this week and told to come back in a month for formal sentencing.

Dwight Plair spent almost two years behind bars while Cincinnati police and federal agents held up his case as an example of Project Disarm, a new cooperative effort to get gun criminals more prison time than the state courts offer. But after a plea deal that officers say includes him spending 15 years in prison, he was temporarily released from custody Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.

Police are outraged at the release of a man who - before his most recent arrest in June 2001 - was a convicted robber who also spent time in prison for shooting, in 1968, at a Cincinnati police officer. They say they're sick of getting pounded with increasing violence and drug-dealing when the people they arrest don't stay in jail.

This week delivered another release, too: of Orville Brown, 31, a convicted drug dealer who admitted Tuesday in state court that he was guilty of selling drugs again. He left the courthouse on the same $30,000 bond he'd been out on since his September 2002 arrest. He, too, was told to return next month to be sentenced.

He was arrested Wednesday, the next day, again for selling drugs.

"They keep talking about the police department not doing its job,'' said Capt. Vince Demasi, commander of the investigations bureau. "It seems to me that some of the focus should be shifted over to the judicial branch.''

Officials started in January voicing their anger about a lack of significant prison time for drug dealers after an Enquirer story about District 4's Violent Crime Squad showed that more than a third of the drug felons who were arrested by the group and convicted did no jail time, even though most had criminal records. Another third were sentenced to six months or less.

Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel called the criticism of judicial sentencing "misplaced'' and said the real problem was lack of visible police presence and support for police by community leaders. Mayor Charlie Luken responded by meeting two weeks ago with presiding judges Steve Martin and Beth Mattingly, of the common pleas and municipal benches, respectively. The talk, he said, was "nonspecific in terms of conclusions.''

"We just had a discussion about being careful about releasing people who might be dangerous,'' Luken said. "If this was easy, it would've been done a long time ago.''

Dlott did not address why she released Plair. She usually does talk publicly about her decisions.

"It's like letting a shark loose in a baby pool,'' said Lt. Art Frey, commander of the Street Corner drug unit that arrested Brown the next day after setting up a deal to buy $100 worth of cocaine.

Brown was sent to prison in 1994 for drug trafficking and stayed for almost five years. This time, his plea deal in Judge Charles J. Kubicki's courtroom, officers said, included three years in prison.

"It's like a dog chasing its tail,'' Demasi said, "if we don't get some help from somebody other than the police.''


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