Serial killer and death row inmate Anthony Sowell
CLEVELAND URBAN NEWS.COM-CLEVELAND, Ohio-An Ohio state appeals court ruled Thursday that the families of serial killer Anthony Sowell's murder victims and two surviving rape victims that also sued four Cleveland police detectives, assistant city prosecutor Lorraine Coyne and the city after Sowell was released from jail in 2008 on a rape complaint and thereafter killed six of the 11 murdered Black women can only move forward with the suit against a single detective for money damages. (Editor's note: Ultimately caught and after continuing his murder spree, Sowell, convicted in 2011 on 82 of 83 counts, sits on death row as his convictions await further appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court ruling against the former marine late last year but subsequently putting his execution on hold as he seeks federal court appellate relief).
Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst had dismissed all four detective defendants and Coyne from the suit, claiming all of them acted without malice or recklessness, the appeals court reinstating only Hussein.
Ironically, lawyers for the families and two rape victims that are suing voluntarily dismissed the city of Cleveland from the suit, which is under scrutiny by community activists, including the Imperial Women Coalition, the grassroots group founded in 2009 relative to the heinous murders. (Editor's note: The city was dismissed from the suits without prejudice but the time has tolled to re-file it under state law statutory guidelines, and for plaintiffs that did refile, they dismissed it a second time without prejudice, which also precludes re-filing, research reveals. And the mainstream media appears to be covering-up the purported malfeasance by lawyers for the grieving families, which lends credence to the necessity for honest Black digital newspapers locally and nationwide).
"We have not received a credible explanation as to why lawyers for the families and rape victims would voluntarily dismiss the city of Cleveland and its deep pockets from the suit and we need to know if the plaintiffs, all of them Black, some of them poor and most of them of whom are women, have been misled and hoodwinked by their attorneys, " said Cleveland activist Kathy Wray Coleman who leads the Imperial Women coalition and edits Cleveland Urban News.Com and the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog. com, Ohio's most read digital Black newspapers.
(Editor's note: The city was dismissed from the suit without prejudice but the time has tolled to re-file it under state law statutory guidelines, research reveals. And the mainstream media appears to be covering-up the purported malfeasance by lawyers for the grieving families, which lends credence to the necessity for honest Black digital newspapers locally and nationwide).
City spokesman Dan Williams said Thursday that the city attorneys will appeal on behalf of the detective at issue, though the Ohio Supreme Court does not have to hear the case and hears only a fraction of discretionary appeals that are filed.
The appellate decision upholds a part of a ruling by a common pleas judge who dismissed three of the detectives and Coyne from the suit, but reverses the judge's order dismissing a fourth detective, Georgia Hussein, who is now retired. (Editor's note Lawyers for the families and rape victims dismissed the city at the trial court level, and this, said sources, denies them true potential redress unless a court forces the city to indemnify the detective and pays any potential damages, city spokesman Williams saying repeatedly that the city does not pay when it is not a plaintiff to a lawsuit, and community activists questioning why the city would not be named in the suit. There was malfeasance, say activists, actions that transcend the detective Hussein, such as police ignoring missing persons reports and the time it took to finally catch Sowell in spite of numerous community complaints of a stench coming from his Imperial Avenue property where the murders occurred. Data show, however, that the city will sometimes indemnify police officers but it picks and chooses which one's to support, a $5.5 million jury verdict against a cop in a wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit regarding the police killing of rapper Kenneth Smith of Euclid still in litigation after Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert, a lead attorney in the Sowell lawsuits, failed to sue the city).
Detective Hussein, the three-judge Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals panel said in its decision regarding the Sowell lawsuit appeal, can be held liable because she acted with recklessness and wanton disregard of the law when she failed to properly investigate the rape report filed against Sowell in 2008 by Gladys Wade, one of several plaintiffs in the case, and though Sowell, now 57, was a sex offender who had served 15 years in prison for attempted rape.
Hence, the serial killer, arrested again in 2009, went free without charges in 2008 to murder the last six of his 11 Black female victims, and in spite of his arrest following a 2008 rape complaint by Gladys Wade, one of the many plaintiffs in the case.
Sowell remained on a killing rampage until he was captured again in late October of 2009, and following the murders of six more of the 11 Black women he killed, and only after another rape complaint to police, this time filed by Latundra Billups, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In singling out Hussein as the only party possibly liable following an upcoming trial by jury that is set to go forward absent settlement, the appeals court ruled that the other detectives sued, namely Kristin Rayburn, and supervisors Lieutenant Michael Baumiller, Sergeant Antoinette McMahon, as well as assistant city prosecutor Lorraine Coyne, who failed to seek criminal charges against the serial killer and neglected to ascertain that he is a sex offender, are immune from liability,
This, the appeals judges said, is per a state law that protects public employees from civil liability unless they act with malice and recklessness in the performance of their official duties.
Hussein's supervisors, Lt. Baumiller, who has since retired, and Sgt. McMahon, were merely "negligent," the appeals court said, behavior that does not not rise to the level of "malicious purpose."
And Rayburn, an officer of the crime scene unit, was responsible solely with taking photographs of Sowell relative to the investigation, the judges said.
Hussein, the appeals court judges ruled, is the sole culprit, particularly for her sloppy investigation, including allegedly withholding Sowell's sex offender background from city prosecutors, who did not charge him initially.
"Viewing evidence in a light most favorable to appellants, we find that reasonable minds could conclude Detective Hussein acted in a reckless manner," wrote Judge Sean Gallagher in authoring the 27-page opinion on behalf of the three-judge panel of all Democratic and all White judges that also include Eileen A. Gallagher and Kathleen Ann Keough, Keough and Sean Gallagher of whom are former Cleveland judges, and Eileen A. Gallagher, a former common pleas judge.
Judge Keough, in fact, was endorsed by prominent Cleveland city officials for her bid for appellate judge, a seat she was elected to in 2010 and reelected to last year.
A source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Coye, as the assistant city prosecutor, should be fired and should not not have relied on a lowly detective, namely Hussein, to advise her on whether a potential rapist is a sex offender, the alleged absence of such information to Coyne by Hussein a purported reason for Hussein bearing the brunt for the city and all others involved.
Coyne's bosses at the time, former chief city prosecutor Victor Perez, and former law director Robert Triozzi, now the law director for the county, were not sued, at least not by the current batch of plaintiffs.
Lawyers for Coyne and the four detectives argued that state law gives their clients immunity and that all acted properly, and that though the serial murders were tragic, Sowell was simply a murderer who was not in custody to merit liability, not withstanding that police released him from jail without charges in 2008. And the city and county prosecutors, who routinely pursue criminal charges with zeal against the Black community, did not seek criminal charges.
But what is also telling is how the city of Cleveland was dismissed from the suit by lawyers for the plaintiffs at the trial court level, thereby denying a lower court assessment of a possible finding of municipal liability by Judge Fuerst, a former chief judge of the 34-member, largely White general division common pleas court of Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland and is roughly 29 percent Black.
Attorney Gilbert, well-known for prosecuting wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits for the families of killings by Cleveland police and one of many attorneys representing the Sowell lawsuit plaintiffs, told reporters Thursday afternoon that he is pleased with the appeals court ruling because it sends the message that Cleveland detectives must be held accountable for their actions.
But Gilbert could not fully explain why he voluntarily dismissed the city of Cleveland from the lawsuit, his law firm of which is now a member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission per a recommendation from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
The police commission is required per a pending consent decree for police reforms between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Sowell lawsuit is titled Moore vs the City of Cleveland, with Joanne Moore, the the oldest sister of Sowell murder victim Janice Webb, as the lead plaintiff, and was filed by family members of eight of Sowell's 11 murder victims and rape victims Billups and Wade.
The suits, all of which were either filed or removed to federal court but subsequently remanded back to state court, are consolidated into one for purposes of appeal, Moore's suit filed with six other families, another filed by Florence Bray, who is the mother of murder victim Crystal Dozier, and two others filed separately by Wade and Billups.
At least five law firms and eight lawyers, including Gilbert, represent the numerous plaintiffs.
Primarily at issue is a Dec. 8, 2008 police report against Sowell, 57, submitted by Wade, who, according to the appeals court decision released Thursday, ran up to a police car and told police that Sowell had just attacked and raped her, detectives finding blood, foot prints and other evidence at the crime scene at the serial killer's since demolished home on Imperial Avenue on the city's largely Black east side. (Editor's note: Lawsuits filed in federal district court by family members of the murder victims not affiliated with the state suit at issue, including Donnita Carmichael, the daughter of murder victim Tonia Carmichael, who claimed in her suit that police ignored missing persons reports and city and county officials acted with racial bias, were dismissed by Federal District Court Judge Donald Nugent as frivolous in 2011, his dismissal, deemed unjust by some sources, upheld on appeal).
Assistant City Prosecutor Coyne, however, protected Sowell from possible criminal charges in 2008 and so did former county prosecutor Bill Mason, who did not seek an indictment by a county grand jury until Sowell was arrested again in 2009 on a second rape complaint.
Unlike the other state court plaintiffs in the lawsuit on appeal, Sowell rape victims Billups and Wade also sued the county and several county officials, including disgraced former sheriff Gerald McFaul, as did Bray, the mother of Sowell murder victim Crystal Dozier.
As to the county as a defendant, Judge Fuerst, the trial court judge in the case, ruled that the county is immured from compensatory or money damages but not from injunctive relief sought, her ruling in this instance not among the errors raised on appeal by the plaintiffs' lawyers. (Editor's note: Injuctive relief includes such things as a court order to stop a specified act or behavior).
When Sowell, who is Black, was finally arrested in late October of 2009 following a police report of alleged rape by Billups, and after police and city and county officials reneged on an opportunity to prosecute him in 2008 following Wade's report of rape, six more women had been murdered, bringing the total to 11, a gross injustice say community activists who have rallied without reservation since 2009 for justice for the victims, their families, and the community.
The lawsuit were delayed briefly while Sowell was awaiting trial with time piling up since police began pulling dead bodies from the serial killer's Imperial Avenue home on Oct. 29, 2009.
Whether the families and surviving rape victims who are seeking civil redress through the courts will ever get justice remains to be seen.
(Coleman is a longtime community activist who leads the Cleveland based Imperial Women Coalition, a grassroots organization founded relative to the unprecedented Imperial Avenue Murders. She is also a former 14-year public school biology teacher who edits ClevelandUrbanNews.Com and the KathyWrayColemanOnlineNnewsBlog.Com).