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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What is Akron doing about its gang problem? Nothing, it seems

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2008 at 5:58 AM

A caller left us a voicemail with his take on who’s truly responsible for the fact that no one’s been convicted for Shawrica Lester’s murder, thanks to death threats made against witnesses [“Stop Snitchin’, January 23]. His verdict: It’s those damn politicians’ fault. He accuses everyone from councilmen to judges of neglecting the severity of Akron’s gang problem. (We footnoted some comments to give readers some background):
“Great article. I’d like to hear what councilman Mike Williams* has to say. Probably nothing, seeing as all his relatives work for the juvenile court and his wife let a guy who killed someone out on a signature bond.** These politicians won’t say anything about this. They’re all part of the same machine or they need deals, like Unruh***, to get reelected. There won’t be any criticism…”
*Mike Williams is an at-large councilman who sits on the Public Safety Committee and the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Violence. When C-Notes called, he had this to say: “We have had some discussions regarding this. And, in general, we have talked about the youth violence and all the negative things associated with that and all the destructive young people are doing to each other.” Hmmm. We’re not quite sure what this means, but it appears that someone said something vaguely important-sounding at one point. Williams adds that the safety committee has “formulated some strategies” with the Juvenile Court, but couldn’t say exactly what those strategies were. As for the root of people’s refusal to help police, Williams puts that on the cops. “Right now, there is a lack of trust of the police department and that has to get resolved,” he says. “I will say that the Akron police department could be doing a better job at it. It’s an important component that needs attention.” ** The wife in reference is Akron Municipal Court judge Annalisa Williams. In 2006, Scene reported that Williams could have prevented the murder of Tamela Hardison. Her boyfriend and killer, Clarence Fry had appeared before Williams three times in just six months for domestic violence. Just a week before Fry stabbed Hardison in front of her children, Williams let him go on a signature bond after he was charged with choking Hardison and threatening to kill her. *** The caller is referring to Judge Brenda Burnham Unruh, who presided over the trial of Ricardo Travis, the only V-Not gang member to be tried as an adult in the Shawrica Lester case. Unruh can’t really be blamed for the fact that Travis got off. The only prosecution witness was Tyree Feaster, who refused to testify once he got on the stand. Unruh found Feaster in contempt of court and gave him a decent tongue-lashing. Still, Unruh is generally known as a soft judge. Everyone from bailiffs to reporters complain that she still runs her court like a juvenile judge, coddling repeat offenders with light sentences and diversion programs. In 2005, she sentenced Lonnie McKenzie Jr. to only eight years in prison after he tried to kill his pregnant wife with a butcher knife. The prosecution had asked for at least 10 years, citing a 2002 conviction for domestic violence. “She just treats them defendants like they was dumb little kids,” says a courthouse employee. “Her docket is so backed up because she needs to explain every little last thing.” – Denise Grollmus

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