Murder in Painesville 

Will the real killer please stand up?

Only two people know what happened the night of December 3, 2001, when Dustin Spaller was murdered in a Painesville park ["The Quick and the Dead," May 23].

One is Jennifer Jeffries, who brought Spaller to the park that night to buy crack from her ex-husband, Tyrone Jeffries. The other is the man who beat and shot Spaller to death.

Police are sure that man is Tyrone, but the only evidence they've ever had was Jennifer's wavering statements. First she told prosecutors that she and Spaller had been robbed by a group of strange men. Then she said Tyrone shot Dustin, but it was obvious she wasn't telling all. Frustrated, prosecutors decided to light her up as an accomplice, hoping the pressure would finally make her spill. She was convicted and sentenced to 22 years to life.

But now Jennifer and her ex may both get away with murder. An appeals court recently threw out her conviction, ruling that a Lake County judge should not have admitted a polygraph Jennifer took, since the test was part of plea negotiations. Woops!

She remains behind bars at Marysville prison, but a new jury will decide whether she deserves to stay.

Meanwhile, Spaller's parents, who have spent years wondering why their son's killer is walking free, now have to wonder whether their consolation prize will be taken away as well.

"It's been long over five years of pure hell," said Dustin's mother, Nancy, when we talked to her earlier this year. Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come.

Safety and a union beef
A few months back, Punch told you how the feds were trying to kill one of the few bright ideas hatched by a Cleveland politician since the late '70s, when Dennis Kucinich switched hair products.

Zack Reed, previously known for his unorthodox driving techniques, was using federal grant money to hire off-duty cops to patrol his neighborhood ["Policing Mount Pleasant," First Punch, May 16]. Technically, the money is supposed to be used for physical improvements, but since Cleveland resembles the DVD extras from Apocalypse Now, he figured cops were a more prudent investment.

The idea was so good that other council members -- including Nina Turner in Lee-Harvard and Kevin Kelley in Old Brooklyn -- ripped it off.

"People just don't feel safe," says Turner. "We're trying to survive."

But in May, the feds told council they couldn't use the money for security, since everyone knows that decorative street lighting is a far more pressing matter in our little Baghdad by the Lake.

Fortunately, federal law has always been optional in Cleveland. Council members have found ways around the ruling. But there's now a higher power they must answer to: union politics.

Cops' union chief Steve Loomis told the rank and file that he'll downgrade their membership status if they work part-time for a councilman. He's not averse to his guys working on the side. Loomis himself works weekend nights at West Sixth's Spy Bar.

The problem, he argues, is that cops should be protecting these neighborhoods as part of their full-time jobs -- not off the clock, when they're paid five bucks less an hour. If council wants a safer city, they should get "their asses into that council chamber and figure out a way to get more officers on the road." Hiring them off-duty, he says, is like putting "a Band-Aid on an amputated leg."

From a labor perspective, it makes perfect sense. But to council members trying to save their neighborhoods, the union might as well be arguing for a 10-Cent Gun Night in Hough.

"That's deplorable," Turner says of Loomis' threat. "Obviously, if the mayor had the resources to hire more officers, it would be done."

As for the pay scale, Reed says if he wasn't paying enough, cops wouldn't take the jobs. "Not one police officer has ever complained that they're not making enough money. We pay the going rate."

Smile for the camera
Forget the gleaming waters of Hawaii and the glorious ridges of Colorado. On July 27, the CBS Early Morning Show is taking its special brand of Lite Chatter on the road to Cleveland. Bring your flak jacket, Harry!

Unfortunately, viewers nationwide won't be treated to a quintessentially Cleveland show. Mike White and Sam Miller won't be on hand to provide insightful extortion tips. Nor will Jessie, a guy who lives under the bridge, be featured in a delightful cooking segment on how to re-heat a discarded sandwich over a burning pyre of cigarette butts.

Starting at 7 a.m., the show will broadcast live from the Rock Hall. Inductee Patti Smith will perform a free concert. Other guests include Bobby Flay of Food Network fame, who doesn't even know that feral cat is best served with malt liquor.

Blame the Iranian guy
Cleveland politicians are skilled at taking for themselves, but they still need work on that whole bribe-the-constituents thing.

First, they allowed Anthony Allega Cement to run a massive scam at Hopkins Airport, paying black-owned companies a small cut to serve as minority fronts on the multimillion-dollar runway project ["Black on Black Crime," February 21].

Allega's now barred from city work. But black politicians still don't seem to understand that the city's minority set-aside program was designed to give black residents work.

Kokosing Construction recently won a $40.7 million contract to work on another runway project at Hopkins. And it dutifully doled out its largest minority subcontract -- worth $3.8 million -- to The Cleveland Group.

Eddy Zai, owner of The Cleveland Group, may have the proper pigmentation, but he's Iranian. And his business is based in . . . Eastlake.

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