In Defiance of Decency and Fact, Mayor Frank Jackson is Actually Standing By the Hiring of Lance Mason

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In Defiance of Decency and Fact, Mayor Frank Jackson is Actually Standing By the Hiring of Lance Mason
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Lance Mason, the former Cuyahoga County Judge who served nine months in prison for the brutal beating of his then-wife Aisha Fraser in 2014, and who was hired by Mayor Frank Jackson last year, is presumed to have stabbed Fraser to death this weekend in Shaker Heights. He has not yet officially been charged with Fraser's murder, though he was charged Monday morning with felonious assault for taking Fraser's car and driving at high speeds into a Shaker Heights Police Cruiser. He is currently in custody.

The weekend tragedy casts Mayor Frank Jackson’s decision to hire Mason last summer in a much darker light. Late Saturday, Jackson’s office issued a press release saying that Mason had been officially terminated — what a heroic stand! — but some have called for Jackson’s immediate resignation or, failing that, for the release of all documentation surrounding Mason’s hiring.

WKYC broke the story that should have been a major scandal last November, shortly before the mayoral election: Jackson had personally hired Mason from a pool of 13 candidates to work as a minority business administrator in the office of equal opportunity. This was not long after Mason had been released from prison after serving only 9 months of a two-year sentence. Jackson already had a penchant for standing by loyal substandard employees — so-called "weak links" — or even to promote them, but everyone reporting the story assumed that hiring this violent abuser would be a bridge too far. It's the sort of story that, in places other than Cleveland, has serious ramifications.

To counter rumors that Jackson had hired Mason as a favor to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who knew Mason and may have asked for the favor after she'd given Jackson her endorsement, the city trotted out Equal Opportunity director Melissa Burrows to claim that she’d made the decision on her own, on the grounds that Mason was the most qualified candidate.

"I made the decision to hire Mr. Mason because of his expertise in reading, understanding and interpreting contracts and other legal documents,” she said at the time.

His reading comprehension notwithstanding, Mason had savagely punched his wife in the face 20 times and smashed her head into their vehicle’s dashboard repeatedly while their daughters sat in the backseat. The beating was severe enough that Fraser required reconstructive facial surgery. After his first court appearance in that case, a family member called the police, fearing that Mason might commit suicide. When police arrived and took him into custody, they found a cache of weapons and ammunition in his home: two shotguns, two assault rifles, two handguns, smoke grenades, a bulletproof vest and a sword, among other things.

These red flags would have had to be measured in acres they were so enormous. But Jackson hired Mason anyway, in August, 2017, when he would still have been serving time for the assault on Fraser if not for his early release.

And now, in a frankly grotesque display of his remoteness from reality, Jackson has defended Mason's hiring in comments to Fox 8. He said he stood by the decision to hire Mason — now apparently admitting that it was his decision after all? — and that he had “no way to predict the future.” When Fox 8 asked if the city would no longer hire domestic abusers, Jackson said no.

“Our policy is second chances unless there is something that would prevent us from doing it,” he said. “For example, you wouldn’t hire a convicted felon and put them around children. You wouldn’t hire an embezzler and put them in the finance department.”

Okay, but you'd hire a violent domestic abuser and amasser of heavy weapons, including semi-automatic rifles, to liaise with contractors and women- and minority-owned businesses?

Frank Jackson is pathologically unable to admit a mistake. It's one of his ugliest leadership traits. He sincerely believes that he can do no wrong, that every decision he has ever made — even if it has produced negative results — was made for the right reason. But in this case, the response was obvious. He should have issued an immediate and extravagant apology, both for Fraser's death and for perpetuating a system that rewards insiders and protects abusers at the expense of victims. As Joe Patrice wrote for Above the Law this morning:

"Should the criminal justice system lean away from draconian sentencing? Sure. Would society be better off if ex-convicts aren’t permanently blackballed from earning a living when attempting to reenter society? Of course. But we’re not talking about someone starting over after serving their time. This is a tale of complicity, where apologists pushed a professional colleague through his “difficulty” with sweetheart deals and patronage gigs. Protecting Fraser was never a consideration while they worked to restore Mason."

In this instance, the future was crystal clear. And Jackson needs to own up. 

The Shaker Heights School District has canceled professional days for teachers today and tomorrow — students had the full week off — and will hold a candlelight vigil for Aisha Fraser this evening at 5:30 at Woodbury Elementary, where Fraser was a 6th grade teacher. 

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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