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Meet the new boss

You would've had a hard time finding anybody in the Justice Center here in Cleveland who thought Tim McGinty was going to lose the election for County Prosecutor.  In fact, just about everybody figured he'd win big.  He had in 2012, getting over one-third of the vote in a five-person race, 14% more than his closest competitor.  If somebody was going to win this election by 10 points, the smart money had it being McGinty.

So much for the smart money.  Tuesday, Mike O'Malley made McGinty a one-term prosecutor, beating him by a 56 to 44 percent margin.

I didn't make it over to the Justice Center yesterday, but I'm guessing there wasn't a whole lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  If life were Dungeons & Dragons, McGinty's Special Ability would be pissing people off.  His Moby Dick was the assigned counsel system, which he spent twenty-some years declaiming as wholly corrupt:  defense lawyers giving judges campaign contributions in return for judges assigning them criminal cases.  In his telling, both parties were equally venal, and given that he spent most of those twenty years on the common pleas bench, his constant harping did little to endear him to his brethren.  As for defense lawyers, I had a few cases with him, none of much consequence, and he treated me and my client fairly, but mine is definitely a minority view; there are many defense attorneys who loathe the man.

That wasn't his undoing, however; the electorate doesn't care what judges or lawyers think.  He made two decisions which almost certainly led to his defeat. 

First, there was Michael Brelo.  One November night in 2012, Timothy Russell drove his car past the police headquarters in the Justice Center, and apparently the car backfired.  That resulted in a 22-minute car chase through Cleveland involving no fewer than 62 police cars, culminating in the police surrounding Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, and firing 137 shots into their car.  (Factoid for the day:  that's more than were fired at Bonnie and Clyde's death scene.)  Brelo himself accounted for 49 of them, the last 15 while standing on the hood of Russell's car, firing directly down into bodies that were in all likelihood already dead.  Although the hail of bullets had been precipitated by a belief that Russell was shooting at the cops, no guns were found in the car.

McGinty's office charged Brelo with voluntary manslaughter, but Brelo was acquitted after a bench trial.

The second was Tamir Rice.  Rice, a 12-year-old boy who looked older than that, was playing with a toy gun at a local park.  Somebody called the police, and told the dispatcher that the gun was probably a toy, and that it looked like Rice was just fooling around.  Those last two pieces of information weren't conveyed to the police car dispatched to the scene.  One of the officers, Tim Loehmann, had been on the force just six months.  He'd been forced to quit the Independence Police Force because of, among other things, "a dangerous loss of composure" during a weapons training exercise, during which his weapons handling was "dismal." 

And that proved predictive.  The video shows the police cruiser coming to a screeching halt just a foot or so from Rice.  That's wrong right there; any police procedural will tell you to put distance between you and a man with a gun.  Loehmann jumped out, Rice reached down to his waist, and Loehmann fired two shots within one and a half seconds of getting out of the car.  The two cops stood around for about four minutes without giving any aid to Rice, rousing from their watch only to throw Tamir's sister to the ground and handcuff her when she ran toward the body.  After a lengthy investigation, McGinty told the grand jury not to indict the ham sandwich, and it didn't.

Timothy Russell, Marissa Williams, and Tamir Rice are black, and that Michael Brelo and Tim Loehmann are white.  But you knew that.

You can at least make an argument that McGinty made the right call in both cases.  (Not so for Chicago's Anita Alvarez, the other big-city prosecutor who lost her job yesterday; for thirteen months, she'd sat on a video showing one of her (white) officers pumping sixteen shots into a (black) man lying on the ground.)  But right one or wrong one, it worked out for him in the worst possible way.  He angered the cops by indicting Brelo, but got no credit from the black community when Brelo walked.  His decision on Rice did not gain the cops back - they'd endorsed him in 2012, but didn't this time - and it further angered the black community. 

So McGinty becomes a victim of the tumult of the times, and in certain ways it's too bad.  His predecessor, Bill Mason, had used death penalty indictments as a bargaining chip; in his last year in office, there were 94 capital cases in Ohio, and 32 of them came out of Cuyahoga County.  McGinty ended that; there's been no more than a handful of capital indictments during his term.  Mason had also been the most political prosecutor we've had, resulting in plummeting morale among his assistants.  McGinty put a stop to that as well, and the professionalism of the office has increased substantially.

O'Malley was Mason's top lieutenant for six years, and served under McGinty as well before leaving to become Parma's safety director.  McGinty argued that O'Malley would return the office to the days of political patronage under Mason.  O'Malley denied it.

We'll see what happens.

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