LIMA — A nearly three-year-old fatality is still the focus of criticism of Lima law enforcement by the local unit of the NAACP.
During a press conference held Thursday at Grace Church Worldwide Ministries in Lima, NAACP president Ronald Fails expressed frustration with perceived shortcomings in the investigation into a July 2014 alcohol-related crash that left Kataira Gordon, 14, dead. Before the incident, Gordon, along with her sister, Alexis Copeland and three other underage girls, had purchased Four Loko, an alcoholic malt beverage, at Meat City, 801 E. Kibby St. According to the investigation, the fatal accident occurred when the girls were on a third trip back to the convenience store to purchase more.
Fails contended that the Lima Police Department, while referring the case to the Allen County Prosecutor for prosecution of Copeland, did not ensure that the Ohio Division of Liquor Control was notified and did not notify the City of Lima law department, thus leaving Meat City and its employees free from any citation or other consequence. Fails also said that in speaking with an investigator with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, he discovered that the investigator was not made aware of this case until it was brought to his attention by Fails and Tammy Holly, the mother of both Gordon and Copeland. Fails also said that Lima law director Tony Geiger was not aware of the case until he and Holly brought it to his attention.
“We’re not demanding anything but justice and a change in the way these kinds of investigations are handled,” Fails said. “Our demand is we do what the state recommends, and that is in cases like this, to bring the state in, who is equipped and has the knowledge and skills to conduct these kinds of investigations correctly.”
Fails implied that the lack of consequence for Meat City denotes a “devaluing of certain human life” on the part of the police department and is calling for a review of how the case was handled. He said the Lima NAACP plans to refer the case to the national NAACP as well as the U.S. Justice Department.
Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin responded to Fails’ assertions by saying the issue with bringing any citations against Meat City was not a systemic one but rather a lack of evidence, a conclusion not just reached by his department.
“Any felony cases are reviewed by the Allen County Prosecutor’s office for determination as to whether there is probable cause for charges,” he said. “They reviewed the case and said there was not sufficient probable cause (against Meat City). The Division of Liquor Control also reviewed the case and also came to the conclusion that there was insufficient probable cause to bring any charges against anyone working at Meat City on the night in question. More recently, at the request of the NAACP, the Lima Municipal Court prosecutor’s office reviewed the case and came to the same determination.”
Martin said that the sergeant investigating the case did make contact with the Division of Liquor Control during the investigation, an assertion that Fails disputes. He also said that if the Division of Liquor Control had determined that citations would be in order against Meat City, it would have still had the opportunity to do so after being contacted by Fails.
Geiger was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Efforts to reach the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for comment were unsuccessful.