Mayor Mike Bell, in the midst of a contested re-election bid, threw in the towel on Tuesday after fighting for more than a year to keep the city’s gang map from being made public.
City Law Director Adam Loukx said he sent a motion to the Ohio Supreme Court asking that the court dismiss the city’s appeal of The Blade’s successful lawsuit to have the gang map declared a public record. The motion came one day after the newspaper obtained a copy of the map and published it.
The motion to dismiss verifies that the newspaper obtained an authentic copy of the department’s map.
John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, said the city should have taken this action sooner.
“We were always confident about the strength of our legal position that the city was obligated to give us the gang map,” Mr. Block said. “They didn’t do this out of the goodness of their heart. The public can now see that there was no reason for the city to withhold it.”
The motion to dismiss states: “At issue was the city’s refusal to provide [The Blade] with a document prepared by a Toledo police detective and referred to as a ‘gang map.’ The city refused to provide the map as it believed the map was a confidential law enforcement investigatory record and, thus, not a public record under Ohio law."
Since the map was printed in The Blade on Tuesday, the city moved to drop its appeal.
“While, arguably, important legal questions remain that are capable of repetition yet evading review, [the city] believes that the publication of the requested record moots the underlying issue before this court,” the motion states. “Accordingly, dismissal of this action is appropriate at this time.”
City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said that Mr. Bell would not comment further because of other commitments he had late Tuesday.
The city’s gang map was given to The Blade by a source who is neither a representative of the police department nor the city law department. Citing an ongoing lawsuit, Toledo police and city officials had on Monday declined to comment or to review the map obtained by the newspaper.
In July, 2012, The Blade sued the city in the state’s 6th District Court of Appeals for refusing to release the police department’s gang map. In a 2-1 decision on July 12, 2013, the court granted The Blade’s request for access to the document.
However, the Bell administration refused to release the map and filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court on July 30.
The Blade produced its own gang map this year based on interviews with current and former gang members who came from different gangs and different parts of the city, as well as Toledo police sources who spoke to The Blade on the promise of anonymity. The map was published in The Blade in April and again on Tuesday.
When gang sources compared the two maps presented to them by The Blade, they said that the newspaper’s map was “more detailed.” The city’s map was created more than a year ago and showed the territories of 18 gangs. The Blade’s map shows 49 gangs.
The city map also contained additional information about some gangs, such as where they hang out, who they align themselves with, and who they are feuding with.
Some other discrepancies exist between the maps. The city categorized the Out Hill as Bloods while The Blade’s sources said the gang has no nation affiliation. The Blade identified four gangs in East Toledo, whereas the city identified one, the “Vil Boy Bloods.” The city’s map identifies a Mexican gang called Sureno 13 near F Street between East Central and Bronson avenues in North Toledo, which The Blade’s map does not include.
Most of the candidates running against Mayor Bell in this year’s election have said that continuing with the appeal was a moot point, and they were happy to hear the case was being dismissed.
“I’m glad that he’s stopping the waste of time and taxpayers’ dollars in this effort and now he needs to focus on adjusting the problems,” Democratic mayoral candidate Anita Lopez said. “Now we can hold him accountable. Basically, the public can’t hold him accountable if he’s hiding information, and so his block of transparency is another reason why he needs to go.”
Democratic candidate Joe McNamara said, “It’s long past time that Mayor Bell release the gang map. To solve gang violence, you need to be honest about it and involve the community.”
Mr. McNamara was asked if he would have released the map, had he been mayor.
“As long as no one would have been harmed by releasing it, I consider it a public record,” he said. “I think it’s a public safety issue to not release it, when we’re trying to implement a cease-fire model of reducing gang violence.”
Independent candidate D. Michael Collins said he was simply relieved that the ordeal between The Blade and the city was over.
“I think this is an unfortunate chapter in the history of The Toledo Blade and the city of Toledo under the current administration,” he said. “I am glad this chapter is over with and we can move on in terms of being able to positively market our city. ... It’s unfortunate that it went to Columbus and has gotten the national attention it has received.”
Contact Arielle Stambler at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.