Steubenville's Long History of Police Corruption
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Corruption: It's at the heart of the controversy over the rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, and it has to do with a lot more than just the legendary Big Red football program. Allegations of a cover-up stretching from the team to the local police to the prosecutor's office have been surfacing on social media since the alleged incident in August, but they have been lacking in detail, and that's why the hackers at Anonymous and LocalLeaks got involved last week.
As the so-called Steubenville Files continue to piece together a blurry narrative based on leaked documents, viral videos, and anonymous accounts from city locals, Steubenville leaders launched a fact-finding site of their own this weekend, aiming to "disseminate the most accurate information" about the city and the football team's alleged involvement in the rape of a 16-year-old girl. But the answer to the question on everyone's mind — who should you trust? — lies beneath the small city's long history of corruption, spanning from a Justice Department investigation to rape survivors just now coming forward with tales of the police discouraging them from speaking out. As a petition seeking "real justice" crosses the threshold that will demand a public response as high up as the White House, here's a look back at Steubenville's reputation, 70 years in the making:
1940s-1960s: "Little Chicago"
That's not a good nickname to be carrying around in the Midwest's heyday of mobsters, and the monicker wasn't just because of the "downtown bustle" in the "corruption"-laden little Ohio metropolis. "Steubenville is trying to live down its reputation for brothels, gambling joints, and crooked machine politics," the AP's Beth Grace wrote back in 1986. During the late 80s, according to Grace, the city began to take its corrupt officials to task, but...
1996-1997: The United States vs. The City of Steubenville
After a year-long investigation, the Justice Department made Steubenville's police department just the second in history forced to sign an agreement setting up new measures to combat police corruption under the 1994 Crime Bill. Here is part of the 1997 ruling on misconduct involving the city police and the city manager — the same two offices, it turns out, that spoke out in this weekend's new fact-finding mission:
The United States brings this action to enforce Section 210401 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141. The United States alleges that officers of the Steubenville Police Department have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, and the Steubenville City Manager (in his capacity as Director of Public Safety) have caused and condoned this conduct through inadequate policies and failure to train, monitor, supervise, and discipline police officers, and to investigate alleged misconduct.
Part of that agreement involved promising to start a new training program for all police officers, including a special section on domestic violence, as well as a new internal-affairs policy.
The Celebrity Testimonies
When it comes to famous people claiming Steubenville as home, Dean Martin is the crown jewel. Then there's former porn star Traci Lords, who fled town after being sexually abused there at the age of 10. And, as has been making ripples on Twitter over the last week, there is the experience of Rza, the poetic rapper and filmmaker most famous for leading the Wu-Tang Clan. In his 2010 memoir The Tao of Wu, Rza wrote the following of his hometown:
Sheriff Abdalla and Rape
The New York Times story that first brought the case to national attention focused on the plight of city police chief William McCafferty, who was having trouble gathering eyewitness accounts. Collecting that kind of information was ostensibly the point of the efforts by Anonymous, but the hacking collective has focused instead on Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, suggesting that he is close with Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia and that he was responsible for "inadvertently" deleting key video evidence. Over the weekend Abdalla took Anonymous to task in his office at an Occupy Steubenville rally, but as the spotlight refocuses on Abdalla, stories have surfaced all across social media suggesting that the sheriff might not be sympathetic to rape victims. Here's the Facebook post currently being highlighted by Anonymous:
Trippanti has not yet responded to a request for clarification from The Atlantic Wire, but but according to LocalLeaks, the WikiLeaks-style site amassing tips with Anonymous, the alleged victim of the controversial August incident had a similar experience talking to prosecuting attorney for Jefferson County, who is also the mother of a football player now in trouble with his university for allegedly throwing the party in question.
Meanwhile, the Steubenville Facts blog put together by city officials this weekend, in a post about Ohio law-enforcement policies, explains why Sheriff Abadala hasn't been as involved as much as people watching the case would like to him to be:
Crimes allegedly committed within the City of Steubenville fall within the jurisdiction of Steubenville Police. Crimes allegedly committed outside of the City but within Jefferson County fall within the jurisdiction of the County Sheriff. Because the information about alleged criminal activities in this case was first reported to city officials, the Steubenville Police Department investigated the case with the assistance of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
"When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case," Steubenville City Manager Cathy Davison said at Saturday press conference announcing the new fact-finding mission by local leaders to counter the Anonymous leaks. "They went by the book. Everything was handled in an aboveboard fashion to make sure that the case can benefit from the fullest extent of the law."
And while many of the details of the case remain sealed by a judge's gag order on town officials ahead of initial hearings in the case (which may now be pushed back), the Steubenville Facts site seems more defensive than informative. The "official" blog highlights several talking points, including why the local police acted to the best of their ability:
The Chief of Steubenville Police has been in this position for 13 years and is not a graduate of Steubenville City Schools (home of the “Big Red” sports teams). His child attends another school district.
The fact-finding site also seems to be setting expectations for a judicial timetable...
With respect to other charges that could be brought aside from allegations of sexual assault, prosecutors and police have up to two years (for misdemeanors) and up to six years (for felonies) to bring charges. Often, charges are deferred until after a trial, to evaluate the sworn testimony of witnesses at the trial.
...and a plea for patience:
Ohio public records law provides the public the ability to review nearly the entire work product of the investigators once the case is completed. This will allow anyone, within the confines of the Public Records Act, to scrutinize what occurred between the reporting of the incident and the trial.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.