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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Joshua Gaspar Not Guilty of Vehicular Manslaughter in I-90 Crash That Killed Ohio State Highway Patrolman

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 4:45 PM

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Joshua Gaspar was found not guilty of the vehicular manslaughter charges he received following the I-90 crash that killed Ohio State Highway Patrolman Kenneth Velez last September. (See original stories below.) Gaspar had pleaded not guilty.

He was, however, found guilty of driving under suspension, falsification, certain acts prohibited and tampering with records. Cleveland.com's Cory Shaffer first reported on the news following the jury verdict.

A particularly interesting undercurrent of the case involved the methadone dose that showed up in Gaspar's drug screen after the crash. From Shaffer:

[Defense attorney Jon] Sinn called the prosecution "mean-spirited" in closing arguments delivered Tuesday, and said prosecutors used Gaspar's methadone prescription as a way to "dirty him up" in the eyes of the jury in a desperate attempt to secure a conviction for the death of a law enforcement officer.

"Folks out there are getting help for their addiction, and now [prosecutors] are making it seem like [methadone] is unsafe to drive on," Sinn said. "The impairment thing is a red herring. It's not true, and I think you know it's not true." 

Gaspar will be sentenced next month.

***
(Updated 10/11/16):

Joshua Gaspar's bond was reduced from $1 million to $500,000 by a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge after his lawyers filed a motion on Friday.

Via NewsNet5:

An attorney for Gaspar, Jonathan Sinn, filed a motion Friday to a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge asking for a bond reduction citing Gaspar's upbringing in Cleveland. Sinn also cited a letter from a doctor who said was on prescription drugs at the time of the crash and not an illegal substance.

"When the present case commenced, it was widely reported that Mr. Gaspar was under the influence of illegal drugs; however, that was not the case," Sinn wrote. "Dr. [Richard] DeFranco had Mr. Gaspar’s blood tested the day after the incident at hand, and reported that the drug screen was negative for all drugs of abuse and contained only his prescribed therapeutic dose of methadone."

***

(Updated 9/30/16): More details in the crash that killed Ohio State Highway Patrolman Kenneth Velez emerged in court documents this week.

Cleveland.com reports that authorities say Joshua Gaspar was driving at 78 mph when he struck and killed the officer.

Additional details include the time at which Gaspar took his prescribed dose of methadone (12:34 p.m.). The accident occurred at 12:48 p.m.

More: 

The officers who spoke to Gaspar immediately following the crash suspected he was impaired.

"Gaspar's eyes were constricted, his voice was low and raspy and he seemed confused about details being described to him," the prosecutor's filing says.

Gaspar failed on-scene sobriety tests — including a nystagmus test, a walk and turn test, a one-leg stand test and the finger-to-nose test, according to prosecutors.

Gaspar has eight previous speeding convictions.

He's pleaded not guilty to all charges so far.

***

(Updated 9/27/16): 37-year-old Joshua Gaspar was indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury this week in the death of Ohio State Highway Patrolman Kenneth Velez, who was struck and killed on I-90 on September 15.

Gaspar faces two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle under the influence. Authorities say that after the crash, Gaspar fled the scene, resulting in an hours-long search.

Meanwhile, Gaspar's lawyer is publicly contesting the police narrative that his client was on drugs at the time of the crash. WKYC reports that a doctor who examined Gaspar the day after said he tested negative for drugs. What he did test positive for, however, was methadone. He'd been taking the prescribed dose (70 mg), he told investigators, which he'd been using for three years as treatment for a painkiller addiction.

Defense attorney Jon Sinn said Gaspar was not under the influence on any drugs and test results prove his contention.

“Josh is clean. Josh is sober. Josh got into an accident and that can happen to anyone,” Sinn said. “While our hearts go out to the trooper, at the end of the day, it’s not right to penalize Josh for something that's nothing more than a tragic, tragic accident.”

[snip]

Channel 3 News has obtained a copy of the Sept. 19 letter from Dr. Richard DeFranco, who examined Gaspar a day after the crash.

“[Gaspar] was understandably upset….He was not intoxicated,” DeFranco wrote.

He added that Gaspar was tested for illegal drugs, as usual, during the Sept. 15 visit.

“…and this drug screen was negative for all drugs of abuse tested for. It was positive only for his therapeutic dose of methadone,” the doctor concluded.

His lawyer says studies show methadone does not impair driving.

Gaspar remains in jail on $500,000 bond. His lawyer intends to ask the court for a lower bond today.

***

(Updated 9/17/16): Police say 37-year-old Joshua Gaspar, the man who hit and killed Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Kenneth Velez on Thursday, was on drugs at the time of the crash.

While police nor court documents indicate what drugs Gaspar was using, according to Cleveland.com, he has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide.

Gaspar will probably be in court at some point today. (Update to the update: That's happened. No plea entered. Held on $500,000 bond.)

The Columbia Station man has two prior felonies: In 2007, he was arrested with crack cocaine and methadone; and in 2009 he was charged with aggravated theft for scamming an elderly Parma man out of $2,000.

***

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(Original story 9/16/16): Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Kenneth Velez died Thursday afternoon from injuries sustained in a car crash near Lakewood. 

In a press release, OHSP said the crash occurred on I-90 right around the McKinley exit just before one p.m. Velez was "conducting traffic enforcement" and was outside his patrol car when he was struck.

“This is a tragedy for the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety,” said Colonel Paul Pride, Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent, in the release. “Our prayers go out to the Velez family during this difficult time.”

Velez was 48 and stationed at OHSP's Brook Park post. He is survived by his three children.

Thursday's highway closure in the wake of the crash lasted until about 5:30 p.m., causing lengthy delays on Cleveland's west side. 

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Prosecutors Decline Charges in 2014 Incident Where Lorain Cop Slammed Suspect's Head on Cruiser Windshield: UPDATE

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 10:04 AM

DASH CAM VIDEO VIA WKYC
  • Dash cam video via WKYC

Federal prosecutors have declined to pursue any charges against Lorain police officers Zachary Ferenec and Christopher Ferenzi, Cleveland.com's Eric Heisig reports this morning. Ferenec slammed Pele Smith's head onto the windshield of a police car during a September 2014 arrest. (See dash cam video and earlier stories below.)

The Lorain Police Department didn't do much internal introspection in the wake of that arrest, waiting until dash cam video was publicly released and Smith had filed a lawsuit to begin a formal investigation. Last fall, Police Chief Cel Rivera said that they probably should have taken a closer look at the incident earlier.

Smith's federal court case is halted for the moment; attorneys are expected to file a joint status report in July and, possibly, get things moving again. - Eric Sandy

***

(Update 10/3/16): Lorain police chief Cel Rivera said this weekend that the 2014 incident during which a man's head was slammed onto a cruiser windshield hard enough to shatter the glass will be reviewed again.

The video, which you can watch below, shows the disturbing moment. Officers contended Pele Smith was resisting arrest and that while the video isn't easy to watch, it doesn't fully capture the incident. Smith's attorneys recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officer involved.

While three supervisors reviewed the video and written reports and ruled the incident justified at the time, Chief Rivera now says it should have merited further investigation.

“I do want to assure Pele Smith and his family that a full investigation will be done and that the truth will come out so they will truly understand what happened,” Rivera said during a news conference, according to the Chronicle-Telegram.

Rivera said he had asked U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio Carole Rendon if her office wanted to look at what happened after Smith was stopped for jaywalking on East 34th Street on Sept. 4, 2014. He said federal prosecutors suggested that he have Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will conduct the review, a request Rivera said he’s made.

[snip]

Rivera said in an interview after the news conference, which included several local pastors and Lorain City Councilman Angel Arroyo Jr., D-6th Ward, that in hindsight the incident should have been given a more thorough review initially.


***

(Original story 9/30/16): WKYC has disturbing video of the September 2014 arrest of Pele Smith by Lorain police. In the video, which does not show the beginning of the traffic stop, an officer is seen leading Smith toward the cruiser. Smith's head then violently hits the windshield. The glass cracks from the impact.


At the time, Smith was later charged with "tampering with evidence, obstructing official business and resisting arrest. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Smith pleaded guilty and received probation," according to WKYC's review of court records.

Smith filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the department last month.

The Lorain police department hasn't provided full records of the arrest to the station yet but does say that the video, while disturbing, doesn't tell the full story.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera released a statement Wednesday calling Smith “a violent drug trafficker” and said the video “does not tell the complete story” and “could be misunderstood" by the public.

According to the Lorain County Clerk of Courts website, Smith has no felony convictions for violent crimes such as assault or robbery. He has prior convictions for drug offenses and possessing a firearm.

“During the arrest and Mr. Smith’s active resistance, he was placed on the hood of the police unit to gain control and conduct a search, as per policy,” Rivera said in his statement. “I would caution observers to not rush to judgment relative to the actions of the police on scene.

“Although it is not easy to watch, police officers explain all of their actions in their police reports.”
We'll update you if and when those reports are released.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Cleveland Psychic Who Scammed $1.5 Million From Victims Pleads Guilty to Theft Charge

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 2:04 PM

Gina Miller - COURTESY MENTOR PD
  • Courtesy Mentor PD
  • Gina Miller
Update: Gina Miller, the one-time psychic in Mentor who was arrested and charged with scamming nearly $1.5 million from 11 victims, has pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated theft. She had originally faced 28 counts that spanned crimes covering 20 years as she threatened clients into forking over dough that fed her lifestyle of Rolexes and Louis Vuitton purses. 

Miller preyed upon victims by telling them bad, bad things would happen to them or their families if they didn't pay her. Nearly a dozen, including one elderly woman who handed over more than $100,000 to Miller, believed her.

Sentencing is set for late April. 

***

(Original story 9/7/16): There's the run-of-the-mill psychic gambit — palm readings and tarot cards that'll run you $15 or $20. You pay for the novelty and, depending on your beliefs, some purported insight and whatnot.

Then there's the psychic who goes nuclear, threatening victims that the magic maker will withhold protection against future bad events unless they pony up. There's dozens of these stories across America — one New York psychic got a lovelorn guy to fork over $713,000 in a scam. Gina Miller, a woman who ran Psychic Reader in Mentor, is now included in that collection, though the sheer amount of money she collected from victims puts her in elite company.

Miller, 46, allegedly scammed as much as $1.5 million from 11 victims, including $106,681 from an elderly woman. Police say she's been at this for about 20 years now. When they searched her house, they found more than $20,000 in cash, Louis Vuitton purses, computers, Rolexes, and jewelry. 

She's now been indicted on 28 counts including, according to Fox 8: "one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, five counts of aggravated theft, six counts of grand theft, two counts of theft, one count of identity theft, 10 counts of telecommunications fraud and three counts of securing writings by deception."

Miller's bond was set to $150,000 and a preliminary hearing is set for September 24. 

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Monday, February 6, 2017

City Agrees to $2.25-Million Settlement with Family of Tanisha Anderson

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 9:58 AM

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After denying nearly all allegations set forth in the wrongful death lawsuit prompted by Tanisha Anderson's homicide (see below), the city of Cleveland has agreed to a $2.25-million settlement with her family.

Police officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers remain the subjects of a criminal investigation. Anderson was tackled and held to the ground before she lost consciousness and died. 

A press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m.

***
Originally published Dec. 22, 2016

The same week that saw news that the city of Cleveland and the family of Dan Ficker have agreed to try and settle an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the 2011 shooting death of Ficker by a Cleveland police officer also brings us news that the city is prepared to negotiate a settlement in another high-profile wrongful death case involving the police.

According to Cleveland.com's Eric Heisig, attorneys representing the city and the family of Tanisha Anderson today told a judge that they are willing to try and settle the lawsuit filed by Anderson's family back in January 2015. The 37-year-old died in November 2014 with her hands cuffed behind her back after her family called police. Anderson had suffered from mental illness and was having a breakdown. The county medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.

According to Heisig, the settlement conference is scheduled for January 6.

The investigation into the actions of the two officers involved, Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers, which was conducted by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, was passed along to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is serving as special prosecutor in the case, in February.

Since 2004, the city of Cleveland has paid out more than $16 million in police misconduct and use of force settlements and judgments.

***

(Original story 9/14/16): The city of Cleveland has denied nearly all allegations set forth in the wrongful death lawsuit prompted by Tanisha Anderson's homicide

Read the city's response below.

By and large, the legal response is a typical and unsurprising step along the path toward a final judicial ruling. Recall that the city responded in much the same way to the Tamir Rice wrongful death lawsuit. Mayor Frank Jackson actually publicly apologized for the language in that filing. 

In the Anderson case, the city posits that her own negligence and "assumption of risk" led to her death.

Today's response also includes a request to dismiss the lawsuit.

Cleveland Response to Tanisha Anderson Wrongful Death Lawsuit


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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Update: Lineup Announced for LaureLive 2017

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 8:06 AM

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Update: Earlier this year, organizers announced that LaureLive, an event branded as Northeast Ohio’s first and only multi-day, multi-stage and multi-act contemporary music festival, would return on June 10 and 11 to Laurel School’s 140-acre Butler Campus located at 7420 Fairmount Road.

Now, organizers have announced the lineup. Grammy Award-winning singer-guitarist Gary Clark Jr. will headline Saturday night and the indie folk act the Head and the Heart will headline Sunday night. Other acts include Young the Giant, Michael Franti and Spearhead and NEEDTOBREATHE. Saint Paul & the Broken Bones, the Strumbellas, Dawes, Timeflies, Blue October, the Revivalists, JOHNNYSWIM and the Mowgli's along with a slew of other national and local acts will also perform.

"I was there last year and it was a very moving experience," says Franti in a press release. "And this year, I am going to be putting together a special event that is dedicated to bringing people together in this time when we need it more than ever."

“Cleveland has always been a city that we look forward to coming out to. We can’t think of any better way to kick off Summer 2017 than by playing at LaureLive to our Ohio fans. We hope to see you there!” adds NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bear Rinehart.

***
Original Post: Branded as Northeast Ohio’s first and only multi-day, multi-stage and multi-act contemporary music festival, LaureLive: Music with a Mission kicked off its inaugural year earlier this summer with two days full of music, art, food and fun at Laurel School’s 140-acre Butler Campus located at 7420 Fairmount Road.

The concert featured performances by acts such as Michael Franti & Spearhead (pictured), O.A.R., Elle King and Grace Potter.

The concert’s organizers, the Cleveland-based Elevation Group, has just announced that that LaureLive: Music with a Mission will return in 2017 to the Butler Campus. The festival will take place on June 10 and 11.

Continue reading »

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Monday, November 21, 2016

UPDATE: Vandals Toppled Grave Headstones at Historic Erie St. Cemetery

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 3:55 PM

SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
Update: Of the 33 monuments that were vandalized at Erie St. Cemetery over Labor day Weekend, 22 have been raised and reset by Cemetery employees, said a city of Cleveland spokesman.

The Daughters of the American Revolution and the Early Settlers Association have collaborated to raise the funding necessary to restore the 11  remaining monuments.

The total cost of the effort is $2,350.00. The city spokesman said both groups must seek approval from their respective boards before they can move forward with the project, and as such a completion date for the restoration of the additional headstones has not yet been set.

Original story 9/7/2016: 
Over Labor Day weekend, vandals knocked over grave headstones at the historic Erie St. Cemetery, across from Progressive Field downtown.

Though the Cleveland Police aren't pursuing an investigation — the original call was cancelled, police told Cleveland.com, so no police report exists — the City of Cleveland is pursuing repair and rehabilitation options. 

A city spokesman told Scene Wednesday afternoon that the city's cemeteries director intends to bring a monument specialist to the site to assess the damage. 

"Some of [the headstones] just need to be reset, and that's simple enough," said Dan Ball, from the city's media relations department. "Those that require more significant repairs, we'll have to decide how to move forward." 

The Erie St. Cemetery (retaining E. 9th Street's original name) is inactive, meaning there are no new burials there. It is the second-oldest of the city's 12 maintained public cemeteries, established in 1826. 

The cemetery was not without its controversy back in the 19th century, but was unique in that it buried people of all religious faiths. Joc-o-Sot, the famous 19th Century Native American Chief, and John Wheelock Willey, Cleveland's first Mayor, are both buried there alongside other notables

SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Federal Judge Restores Voting Rights for Thousands in Ohio Purged From the Voter Rolls

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 3:44 PM

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Update: Federal Judge George C. Smith, of the U.S. District Court in Columbus, ruled last night that voters illegally purged by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will be allowed to vote.

If you remember, Husted's office purged the Ohio voter roll of thousands of voters who hadn't engaged in "voter activity" (classified as registering to vote or voting) in six years, or three consecutive federal elections. The sum total of the purge isn't known. Democrats say tens of thousands. Republicans say far fewer. Purging also includes getting rid of the names of deceased voters or those that have moved out of state. Husted's broader application was what led the ACLU and the Ohio Democratic Party to bring suit against Husted's office.

Originally, Judge Smith ruled in favor of Husted in the case. In September, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled his decision, saying Husted had violated the National Voting Rights Act, and sent the case back to him. 

In his decision yesterday, he wrote, “There is no dispute that the remedy ordered by this court will not involve the reinstatement of all voters who have been removed from the voter registration rolls.” Basically, any unregistered Ohio voters who were part of the purge and who still reside at the same address where they were previously registered will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot for this election.

Smith's also ordered a 15-percent increase in provisional ballots at each polling location in Ohio. 

Husted's response, via the Columbus Dispatch: “Our main concern was to protect the integrity of the election by not having to reinstate deceased voters, those who moved out of state, or are otherwise ineligible. We will fully comply with the judge’s order to count votes of people who remain eligible in their original county and continue to focus on the important work of administering a smooth election."

***

(Original story 9/23/16): The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed an earlier ruling that shot down a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted. The target of the lawsuit: Husted's process of eliminating the names of registered voters from the state's voter rolls. It's a process called "purging," and it's meant to clean up state databases and delete the names of voters who have moved out of the state or died. It also leaves the door open to negligence and political machinations.

As PBS's Chris Bury once put it, "When it comes to the right to vote, Ohio is a 'use it or lose it' state." 

Today's ruling sides with the plaintiffs who brought the case against Husted and originally sought an end to this purging practice. 

Husted's policy is twofold: There's the typical matter of comparing voter rolls with the National Change of Address database (and eliminating the names of voters who've moved out of state), and then there's the matter of deleting the names of voters who haven't engaged in "voter activity" for the past two years. ("Voter activity" means registering to vote or actually voting.) Those who fall into that second category are sent a notice and then given four additional years to vote. If after six years there's no "voter activity," that person is scrubbed from the database, despite possibly still being an eligible voter. 

Under Husted, there seems to be something of an overreach. It's one thing to get rid of the names of the deceased; it's another thing to just delete countless names of eligible voters from the record. For now, no one can really say how many names have been scrubbed. Estimates vary from "tens of thousands" to "hundreds of thousands."

A Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today investigation this year raised questions about the murkiness behind the policy. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Husted's office is in violation of the National Voting Rights Act. — Eric Sandy

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