"To protect and serve -- our own asses." That's long been the motto of the Warren Police Department. For generations, cops there have been blamed for excessive force. Run a red light, and you could earn a fist in your crotch or a tag-team bludgeoning.
No need to thank your friendly officer; it's all in a day's work.
But in 2004 -- after Scene uncloaked the department's pattern of abuse ("Blue Mob," February 25 and March 3, 2004), and a videotaped flogging of a young man by Warren cops aired across the country -- the U.S. Department of Justice paid a visit. Last month, it handed city officials a 30-page preliminary report that reads like a Miss Manners guide to law enforcement. Among the handy tips:
· Believe it or not, some traffic offenses do not require cavity searches.
· If you must smash a citizen's skull, do not be offended if he complains.
· To avoid allegations of profiling, occasionally beat up white people too.
"It was a very thorough and a very detailed report," says civil rights attorney Rich Olivido, who has filed a half-dozen lawsuits against Warren police and claims to have heard abuse allegations from more than 300 others. "Now if that's all we're left with, it'll be unfinished business, and we'll be disappointed."
The federal probe is ongoing, but the City of Warren is silent. Messages left for the mayor, safety director, and police chief were not returned. They were presumably beating an elderly man who had failed to purchase a dog license, and could not come to the phone.
Last week about 140 mayors met in Warrensville Heights to discuss Secretary of State Uncle Tom Blackwell's plan to lower taxes. The unanimous decision: This may be the dumbest idea ever.
Politicians can't actually stop spending on their own, so they like to come up with one-size-fits-all gimmicks that appeal to voters. But Uncle Tom's Tax and Expenditure Limitation -- TEL for short -- could cut state aid to blighted communities, stamp out any signs of a jobs recovery, and make it nearly impossible to pass school levies, the mayors believe.
That's what happened when Colorado adopted a similar plan. The law crippled the state so badly that voters eventually suspended it. But since it was a catastrophe, Uncle Tom saw it as a natural fit for Ohio, "Where Catastrophe is Job 1."
Blackwell does have a lone supporter in East Cleveland Mayor Eric Brewer. "Voters are voting against their own interests if they allow themselves to be suckered into believing that Mr. Blackwell's plan has flaws," he said in a press release. Brewer thinks it will mean more money for East Cleveland because it will lift the rate freeze on state aid to the distressed city.
Maybe so, says John Mahoney, deputy director of the Ohio Municipal League, but it could also leave The EC flat broke. That's because the state could widen the pool of local government fund recipients to include school districts, slicing the pie for cities into much smaller pieces -- if leaving them with anything at all. And since the legislature would prefer that urban areas curl up and die, Brewer's thesis carries the same odds as 72 virgins greeting you in heaven.
"The odds of you getting the same or anywhere near that same amount of money are, I think, ridiculous," says Mahoney. "Cities are not guaranteed a dime."
"That's not what Mr. Blackwell told me," says Brewer. "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."
Responds Mahoney: "How long has he been mayor?"
Is Joe's luck turning?
Like virtually all death-row inmates, Joe D'Ambrosio insists he is innocent. The difference is D'Ambrosio might be right.
More than four years ago, Scene chronicled the North Royalton native's conviction in the 1988 slaying of Tony Klann, whose nearly bloodless body was dumped in Doan Brook near University Circle ("Unluckiest Man on Death Row," November 22, 2001).
Another suspect pleaded guilty in exchange for ratting D'Ambrosio. But the rat's testimony included a time and location of the slaying that were later refuted by police evidence and a Little Italy barmaid, who claimed she saw Klann, alive and alone, when D'Ambrosio was supposed to be killing him. Further, the puncture wounds on the body didn't match the size of the murder weapon pinned to D'Ambrosio.
Perhaps most telling: While D'Ambrosio had only two DWIs on his prior record, the man who led police to D'Ambrosio had been charged with raping Klann's roommate -- a fact that wasn't revealed at D'Ambrosio's trial. Klann, it turns out, was the only witness subpoenaed to testify against the man.
At the state Public Defender's Office, D'Ambrosio is simply known as "the unluckiest man in the world."
But his luck may finally be turning. On March 24, U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley ruled that D'Ambrosio must be released within six months or granted a new trial.
"He's certainly delighted by the opinion, but he's a man who's learned not to let himself get too built up after 17 years on death row,'" says Neil Kookoothe, a priest and lawyer working on behalf of D'Ambrosio.
Attorney General Jim Petro has until April 24 to appeal O'Malley's ruling; a spokesman for Petro says no decision has been made.
"Our hope is that they will see the light on this and simply give him a retrial," says lawyer Ed Sebold. Either way, D'Ambrosio likely won't escape death row anytime soon: An appeal could take more than a year, and a retrial even longer.
Cleveland's James Frey
A new Free Times correspondent has been on the job only a few weeks, but his work is already raising questions.
"Lidge" has penned two articles about life inside Ohio's prisons -- including last week's cover story, "Tales From the Joint." He has special, unfettered access to prison because, well, he's a resident. According to the paper, he's "a Cleveland-area man serving a lengthy sentence in an Ohio prison for a violent crime."
But the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction isn't ready to tack Lidge's masterpiece on its bulletin board. "We doubt that the incidents that are described actually happened," spokeswoman Joellen Lyons tells Punch.
Using only generic first names and nicknames, Lidge describes drug use, brutal beatings, and drug use that results in brutal beatings. In one incident, he writes about an inmate named Jessie whipping a horseshoe from his jacket and viciously beating a guard named Black Jack.
With 32 prisons and 14,000 prison staffers, Lyons says it's tough to "confirm something that was submitted anonymously." But you tend not to forget something as rare as Ye Olde Horseshoe Beating. "I can say definitively that we have no knowledge of this incident occurring," Lyons says.
Free Times editors didn't return Punch's calls. And Lidge could not be reached, but our hunch is he wouldn't say much, and is willing to go to jail to protect his sources.