Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said changes may be made in handling felony arraignments and high-profile cases in Toledo Municipal Court after a mistake led to her office’s failure to know a protective order had been issued in Michigan against Jashua Perz, who gunned down his former girlfriend Sunday morning.
The personal protection order that Perz’s stepmother obtained against him in Monroe County for threatening to kill her was available though a computer database accessible to law enforcement across the country.
But Ms. Bates told The Blade that information was not part of the case file when an assistant county prosecutor decided in September to reduce felony kidnapping charges against Perz to misdemeanor unlawful restraint for holding his former girlfriend, Kaitlin Gerber, in their apartment for several hours, beating her, and telling her he would kill her.
The county prosecutor said her assistants didn’t know about the Michigan protective order in part because they didn’t have the proper computer terminal in the domestic violence courtroom at municipal court.
On Sunday, Perz chased down Ms. Gerber, 20, and shot her four times in the back inside her car at a South Toledo shopping center parking lot. He then barricaded himself in a Maumee house and later was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Having police officers and detectives in court during felony arraignments to give information about restraining orders in other states on defendants is under consideration by the county prosecutor’s office, Ms. Bates said.
“This is something that makes us all wake up and re-evaluate our jobs. If we can make it better, then we should,” she said. “We don’t want anybody ever again to escape scrutiny.”
The personal protective order that a Monroe County Family Court judge approved for Carol Perz after her stepson made threats at her home during a supervised visit with his 4-year-old daughter was entered into a national computer system known by its acronym, LEIN.
It is unclear whether the Michigan protective order was known to the Toledo police detective who investigated the Sept. 7, 2012, assault by Perz on Ms. Gerber or to the Sylvania prosecutor who handled Perz’s violation of a no-contact order with Ms. Gerber while he was serving a 180-day sentence in a regional jail for domestic violence.
Perz appeared in Sylvania Municipal Court in February for violating the no-contact order by mailing letters to Ms. Gerber while serving the jail sentence. Sylvania Judge Scott Ramey found Perz guilty of violating the order, but let him out of jail without posting bond and set a sentencing hearing for early May.
Sylvania Law Director Jim Moan, who is investigating the handling of the Perz case in Sylvania Municipal Court, refused to answer questions about whether Judge Ramey or others in the court, such as pretrial service personnel, knew about the protective order out of Monroe County or that Perz had threatened to kill his stepmother only a few miles away in Lambertville.
“Our review is ongoing, and to engage in piecemeal release of selected information is ill-advised,” Mr. Moan said.
Prosecutor Bates said placing a computer with access to the national computer database in municipal court would not be practical because of the sensitivity of information and the restrictions on its use imposed under state law, including keeping it locked away and only allowing certified personnel to access it.
Instead, she said police and detectives who can use the computer system will take a more important role in giving input to the court in decisions on setting bonds or reviewing felonies.
“We need to make sure we run a record check and that we have that information,” Ms. Bates said. “Judges and prosecutors who make decisions that affect people’s lives should have access to that information. Those decision-makers should have access to that information. We want all the information that is available so we can make good decisions.”
Ms. Bates said she is also giving thought to putting a third, part-time attorney with trial experience in Courtroom 3 to help the assistant prosecutors assigned there. Such a move, she said, would increase scrutiny of cases, especially involving domestic violence.
“The assistant prosecutors we have in the court are very experienced in terms of longevity,” she said. “But trying a case is a little different.”
Mrs. Perz’s petition to keep her stepson away from her Lambertville home was among about 857 personal protection orders approved last year in Monroe County Circuit Court. In a handwritten plea, she wrote that he threatened in multiple phone messages to “take care” of her and “bury” her.
The judge’s order was immediate and subsequently sent to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, where it was entered into the national database.
Joseph Costello, Jr., who is Monroe County’s chief assistant prosecutor and was a county circuit judge for 26 years until last year, said the computer system makes the civil protection orders accessible for law enforcement purposes to agencies in Ohio and other states. He said specific terms and provisions in the orders may not be available through the database.
“There are ways for police to see if a personal protection order exists, and they are helpful to officers in the field,” he said.
Correspondingly, law enforcement and prosecutors and staff of the Monroe County court system have access to protective orders, both criminal and civil, from Ohio and other states.
Mr. Costello said protective orders are among the factors judges can consider when setting bond or sentencing defendants.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199