LIMA — The NAACP called a press conference Thursday to allege systemic and institutionalized racism throughout the local criminal justice system, especially regarding the treatment of young black men.
“Where African Americans are concerned, it is devastating. We believe that often times when dealing with the prosecuting attorney’s office there is more an interest in convicting and arresting than getting to truth so that justice can be served to all citizens,” NAACP Local Chapter President Ron Fails said. “Today we want to highlight an example of what we’re talking about which in my opinion is one amongst many.”
Vice President Henry Huston followed Fails’ time at the podium to explain the case of Jeff Fails, 30, who is currently awaiting trial for kidnapping, extortion and robbery of a UNOH student. Fails said he was at home during an alleged incident involving James Featherstone and Justin Meeks.
Jeff Fails is the nephew of Ron Fails.
Huston’s explanation of the incident aligns well with the narrative presented by the court during the case’s pretrial hearings, except that Fails had nothing to do with it.
According to the court’s narrative presented by Lima Police Department Det. Jesse Harrod, Featherstone hit the rear of a Mercury Mountaineer and fled the scene. According to Huston, the Mountaineer driver allegedly followed and found Featherstone at UNOH and “punched him” (according to Ron Fails, who said he saw video footage of the incident). The NAACP’s account identified Meeks as the driver.
Huston’s account and the court narrative diverge at this point. Huston said Featherstone wanted to avoid reporting the crash and volunteered to pay for the damages and fix the vehicle at UNOH’s automotive repair shop. The narrative says Featherstone “reported the male subject driving the Mercury Mountaineer” told him to “drain his bank account” — a total of $85.
At this time, Fails said he was at a Super Bowl party with eight witnesses that could prove his alibi, and he was not involved when Meeks and Featherstone interacted.
Lima Police arrested Fails with Meeks close to midnight that night — a few hours after the incident — at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. The court’s account of the incident involved a second black male.
“Officers noted inconsistencies in Jeffery and Justin’s stories,” the court narrative reads. “During the course of their investigation Lima PD officers arrested Jeffery and Justin for multiple charges.”
Harrod’s review of surveillance video “appeared to support the facts as reported by James.”
The incident took place this past February, and since that time, Jeff Fails said he has not been able to find employment due to his name being tarnished. He has been pushing for a trial to prove his innocence as his court-appointed attorney, Joe Benavidez, works to prepare. It’s currently set for Jan. 22.
Meanwhile, Huston asks that Fails’ charges be cleared and the Lima Police Department apologize for the alleged mistake.
“We’re not only requesting, we’re demanding that these bogus charges against Jeff be dropped and also extend an apology to him and his family for this alleged incident which he had no part of,” Huston said.
“If I become aware of an incident of racism or an officer’s behavior being motivated by racial bias in any way, it will be acted on,” LPD Chief Kevin Martin said. “Investigating a criminal complaint is simply what we do, regardless of who is a victim, regardless of who is a suspect, we investigate and work to bring it a proper conclusion.”
Martin did not comment on Fails’ case as he did not wish to prejudice court proceedings.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.