Lawrence Huffman: It’s not over until it’s over

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one of the ploys resorted to by candidates for state and occasionally local offices to generate some interest in their candidacy and some publicity about themselves was to “expose” the claimed abuse of persons confined to what was then known as the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane; now known as the Oakwood Forensic Center.

To further his political ambitions and to generate publicity about himself, a hopeful local lawyer of the opposite political party held several “news conferences” at which he described several incidents in which he claimed security personnel at the hospital had beaten up inmates for trivial nonviolent conduct.

After several of these news conferences, sensing that interest in his claims was waning, he announced that the matters had been referred to the local prosecutor for action. He did that by sending me the statements of two inmates describing such assaults and naming two separate security persons as the culprits and demanding that they be prosecuted for their assaults.

He, of course, sent copies of all of the material to the local and out-of-town media, most notably the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose news hawks immediately confronted me about my intentions. I told them I would present the matter to the next session of the grand jury for its action.

I subpoenaed the inmate files, the two accused guards, and the two prisoners to appear before the grand jury. The cases were suspiciously similar. Each inmate testified that he was being returned to his secure area when, for no reason, the two guards suddenly and without warning or provocation, began to hit and punch them about the head and shoulders, cursed them, and threatened them not to tell anyone.

I called as witnesses the two security people who testified to the opposite, that the prisoners each became belligerent, that they subdued them, restrained them, and returned them to their cells. They made an “incident report,” which was in the file together with the inmates’ “rap sheets.” A rap sheet is a listing of all of the details of a person’s contacts with law enforcement.

The rap sheets on these two were very similar. Between them, they had 10 to 12 arrests and convictions for assault and battery, carrying a concealed weapon, illegal possession of a firearm, armed robbery, cutting with intent to wound, and other miscellaneous charges involving weapons, inflicting injuries on others, and resisting arrests. There was no record that either of them had been treated for any injuries at any time.

The guards were two fairly young (late 20s) men, native to this area, without any record of any disciplinary action having been taken against them for these incidents or any others during their service at Lima State Hospital. Neither had any “rap sheet” showing arrests at any time.

A grand jury’s function is to decide whether the evidence presented to it is sufficient to bring the accused before the Common Pleas Court for trial. A grand jury at that time was composed of 15 members and it was necessary that nine of the 15 agree on the return of an indictment. Anything less is a “no bill” of indictment.

In this case, the grand jury by a 15-0 vote decided not to indict the security personnel. The proceedings of the grand jury, its deliberations, and vote, historically are secret. Therefore, no one, including me, was able to tell the news media anything other than “no indictment.” The lawyer-candidate and the news media, especially the Cleveland Plain Dealer, were irate. That didn’t bother me much as I figured I was done with them.

Wrong.

As the next session of the grand jury was about to convene several months later, I received another complaint, almost identical to the one the same grand jury had heard before. I prepared for the presentation of this second complaint as I had the first; subpoenaed the prisoners (different this time), their records and “rap sheets,” the guards, also different, and their personnel files, and the medical records.

On the morning the case was to be presented to the grand jury, I was accosted at the door of the grand jury room by the candidate and two bozos who identified themselves as staff reporters for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who, in no uncertain terms, let me know that if the grand jury failed to return an indictment this time, they would “blast me” in the Plain Dealer and run me out of office.

My response to them was to go ahead because I only had one more year to go in my current term, had no intention of running for a third term, and besides, I had checked with the distributor and knew that they only sold 200 copies of the Plain Dealer a day in Allen County. You can’t do much “blasting” with that kind of coverage.

The grand jury returned a “no indictment” finding and that was the end of that, or so I thought. (To be continued.)

Moral of the story: It’s not over until it’s over.

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By Lawrence S. Huffman

Contributing Columnist

Lawrence S. Huffman is a Lima attorney.