Findlay Courier: Easy questions go unanswered

Some questions are so easy that any law enforcement agency that gets asked should be able to answer them:

• Will this alleged crime be fully investigated?

• Will all of the evidence be examined, and will it be presented to a grand jury if warranted?

The answers are obviously, yes, yes and yes. That’s the job.

A full investigation is a no-brainer for any agency, including the Ohio Attorney General’s office when it’s asked to investigate. Obviously, if a crime has been committed, or appears to have been committed, any agency with jurisdiction would fully investigate. The public has a right to expect that. Victims of crime have a right to expect it. Of course, all available evidence will be examined and will be presented to a grand jury, if that’s warranted.

Yes, yes and yes.

There are few reasons the answers could be any different. Why would any agency not want to fully investigate an alleged crime? Incompetence? Ignorance? Bureaucratic inertia? There might be more reasons for a law enforcement agency to decline to look at all the evidence? Don’t look, don’t see, don’t do anything. A thin blue line?

We’re baffled why Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost seems completely befuddled and overwhelmed. He might want to be governor someday, but he has no skill set for the job he has right now. He cannot say, one way or the other, if the death of a jail inmate in Richland County in 2019 will be fully investigated? He cannot say, one way or the other, if all the available evidence will be reviewed? These are easy questions.

Yost recently agreed to take over prosecution of the lone corrections officer charged with reckless homicide and manslaughter in the death of Alex Rios in 2019. Mark Cooper, 58, was indicted in December 2022, but his trial late last year ended in a hung jury. Two of Yost’s prosecutors — Drew Wood and Micah Ault — are listed as prosecutors for his second trial, scheduled to start in April.

Rios was brutally assaulted by five corrections officers; it’s unclear why only one was charged. The Montgomery County coroner, his chief deputy coroner and the Richland County coroner all agreed to falsely classify the death as an accident caused by a made-up diagnosis. It’s unclear if any of them have ever even been asked why they did that. Meanwhile, the deputy coroner who actually conducted the autopsy testified at Cooper’s first trial that Rios died because he was suffocated by the officers; his airway was compressed by them during the brutal assault.

Yost’s prosecutors, his unit supervisors and his spokespeople all cannot say, one way or the other, if the suspected homicide will be fully reviewed. They cannot say if all the evidence will be examined or if it will be presented to a grand jury if warranted. The employees of the Ohio Attorney General’s office have been stuck in the oozing goo of bureaucratic inertia for years. The only sure bet for performance is that they will fail to protect victims and families, especially when an alleged crime involves suspected wrongdoing by public officials.

The problem for Yost, we suspect, is that the Richland County sheriff, the jail staff, Yost’s own state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and both the Richland County and Montgomery County coroners’ offices failed to properly respond after Alex Rios was killed when he was attacked by five jail guards. It’s a conspiracy of incompetence, at best.

For more than three years nobody was charged in Rios’ death. It’s as if everything was routine and nobody did anything wrong. But about 18 months after he was killed, a surveillance video of what happened to Rios surfaced and the county’s insurance company, in a matter of just days, agreed to pay out $4 million to his family because what the video shows is egregious and obvious. The money will be used to support Rios’ three children, his family has said.

The insurance company’s attorney recognized what was obvious after viewing the death video; Rios was wrongfully killed. In contrast, the Richland County sheriff, the coroners’ offices and Yost all are acting like blind mice, accountable to nobody.

Rios’ family does not deserve this treatment. The public should not tolerate it.