The parents of Kaitlin Gerber, gunned down by an ex-boyfriend Sunday morning in a South Toledo parking lot, are charging that many in the local legal system failed to protect her from a man who was obviously violent.
Miss Gerber had an idea of what lay ahead after a meeting with the Sylvania city prosecutor Feb. 27 over a domestic-violence charge against her ex-boyfriend, Jashua Perz.
“When Kaitlin came out, she told me that they weren’t going to help her and that they were letting him out that day,” said Miss Gerber’s mother, Jeni Gerber, in an email to The Blade on Tuesday. “She told me that he was going to be sentenced on a later date, but she stated that the sentencing date would never happen.”
The sentencing of Perz on his guilty plea to violating a protection order was set for May 2.
But on Sunday, Miss Gerber, 20, of Toledo was shot dead outside a South Toledo fitness center by Perz, who then went to his Maumee home and turned the gun on himself.
In her email, Miss Gerber’s mother expressed anger over what she said was a criminal-justice system that had let her daughter down. But she also cited examples of prosecutors who tried to help her daughter, whom she described as quick to forgive.
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She said Toledo and Lucas County prosecutors, with the exception of one city prosecutor, encouraged her daughter to let Perz plead guilty to a reduced charge of unlawful restraint, a misdemeanor, rather than felony kidnapping in a Sept. 7 incident at the residence the two had shared on Country Creek Lane in South Toledo.
And the victim’s mother said officials in the Sylvania prosecutor’s office provided little communication to Miss Gerber and would not allow her mother — a University of Toledo police officer — to participate with her daughter in the conversation about how to handle the plea agreement.
Local officials are now scrambling to find out what happened and review how a man who already had beaten Miss Gerber was allowed to walk out of jail only to track her down, chase her in his car, and shoot her four times in the back.
Sylvania Law Director Jim Moan said Tuesday he will conduct an inquiry into the handling of the domestic-violence prosecution in Sylvania Municipal Court. Mr. Moan, who oversees Prosecutor Robert Pyzik, refused to let Mr. Pyzik answer media questions
“I am trying to look into it because that’s what this case deserves,” Mr. Moan said. He said Mr. Pyzik has been a Sylvania prosecutor for 34 years.
“Bob is sick about it,” he said. Mr. Moan said he had only a preliminary conversation with Mr. Pyzik and had not yet spoken with Victim Advocate Erika Drake, who represented Miss Gerber in the courtroom when Perz pleaded guilty on Feb. 27 and was released on his own recognizance.
Miss Gerber signed the plea agreement, allowing the guilty plea and Perz’s release to go forward.
“He should not have been released without them knowing fully who he was and what he was capable of,” her mother told The Blade.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, when contacted by The Blade on Tuesday, said Mr. Moan’s investigation is the first necessary step into determining whether justice officials failed Miss Gerber.
Ms. Bates said judges and prosecutors constantly have to decide whether they are being appropriately aggressive in domestic-violence cases, and that sometimes it is the victims who want them to go easy. She said her impression of the Kaitlin Gerber case is that, “She wanted him to leave her alone.”
“We’re going to have to do some very close scrutiny on what happened. Is there something on which we could have done better?” Ms. Bates said.
Mr. DeWine said he has no authority to intervene and do his own investigation without being invited in by the county prosecutor or other local authority.
“That’s the proper place for that to happen. [Ms. Bates is] the one that’s got the authority. I’m not going to venture an opinion just on the little bit I know. I’m sure the law director will conduct his investigation, but I don’t know enough facts to weigh in with my judgment,” Mr. DeWine said.
“I do know that murders that occur in domestic situations, those are very prevalent and we as a society have not, frankly, figured out how to protect these victims,” Mr. DeWine said.
Perz served a 153-day prison term stemming from the September incident in which he held Miss Gerber inside the apartment where they were living for four hours, beat her, and threatened to kill her and himself. He then was convicted in Sylvania Municipal Court for violating a protection order by sending her some 20 letters from jail, and calling her at her home in Toledo.
As part of the agreement to get Perz to plead guilty to one count, Mr. Pyzik allowed three counts to be dismissed and recommended that Perz be released on his own recognizance without bail pending a presentence investigation before the May 2 sentencing.
During the Feb. 27 hearing, Sylvania Municipal Court Judge M. Scott Ramey reminded Perz that he was still under the no-contact order and any violations of it would be held against him at sentencing. Judge Ramey then allowed Perz to walk free.
Mrs. Gerber said her daughter wanted to cooperate fully with the prosecution and believes more charges should have been brought against Perz stemming from the more than 20 letters he wrote to her.
‘There’s no excuse’
“You should have their [victims’] back the entire way. There’s no excuse for it,” Mrs. Gerber said in an interview on Tuesday.
Mrs. Gerber had complimentary words for one Toledo prosecutor, Arturo Quintero, who told Mrs. Gerber and her daughter that “this man would never leave her alone and he wanted to try to keep him in jail as long as he possibly could because he feared for her life.”
According to Mrs. Gerber, Toledo Police Detective Mary Jo Jaggers filed the kidnapping charge against Perz after the September incident, but passed along a proposal to Miss Gerber to accept a plea from Perz to misdemeanor “unlawful restraint” because it would end the court proceedings.
“Kaitlin is so nice that she just agreed, even though I objected,” Mrs. Gerber wrote in her email.
She said Detective Jaggers used her influence to make sure that Perz was detained a little longer at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio before being transported back to Toledo and arranged for him to be arrested on the Sylvania protection order violation charge as soon as he arrived at the Lucas County jail from the CCNO near Stryker, Ohio.
Ms. Jaggers could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
If the county prosecutor’s office had transferred the case to a grand jury, potentially Perz could have been prosecuted on a felony kidnapping charge and if convicted, spent years behind bars, not months.
Instead, the unlawful restraint charge was handled in Toledo Municipal Court and Perz ended up receiving a 60-day sentence. He received a concurrent 180-day sentence from another Toledo Municipal Court judge from a charge of domestic violence in the same case, and was granted a 27-day early release for good behavior even though he continually violated the protective order against contacting Miss Gerber while in jail. He served a total of 153 days at CCNO.
With his jail term nearly over, Miss Gerber filed a complaint with the Sylvania Township Police Department, leading to the filing of the four violation counts.
CCNO Executive Director Jim Dennis said no one, including the victim or law enforcement, notified the jail that Perz was violating his no-contact order with Miss Gerber.
“If we had been contacted, we could have taken corrective action,” Mr. Dennis said.
Mr. Quintero, an assistant prosecutor, said he read the police reports after he took the case and met with Mrs. Gerber and her daughter. He said he always wanted both to be present because Mrs. Gerber is a police officer with the University of Toledo.
“I wanted her mom to know the procedure. She would understand how the process works,” he said.
Mr. Quintero said the reports compiled by Toledo police in the September assault on Miss Gerber caused him to be concerned about her safety. “He was extremely dangerous,” he said.
Mr. Quintero said he kept in contact with Miss Gerber while Perz was in the regional jail. He said she carefully tracked his release date. He said he made copies of the letters that she received from Perz.
Toledo City Law Director Adam Loukx said the unlawful restraint charge against Perz was handled by an assistant Lucas County prosecutor assigned to Courtroom 3, which handles felony arraignments and preliminary hearings. He said the case in that courtroom was not handled by his office.
Dr. James Patrick, the county coroner, said he doesn’t have the authority under state law to start an inquest into the handling of cases in Sylvania Municipal Court.
“I have the authority to conduct an inquest, but that would only apply if it was issues as to cause and manner of death,” Dr. Patrick said. “Going around and trying to decide if somebody should have done something differently about this case from the law enforcement point of view is not under my purview.”
Dr. Patrick did not indicate the type of gun that was used, but called it “a midcaliber weapon.”
Attempts to contact Perz’s family were unsuccessful Tuesday. When reporters went to the home, they were told not to trespass again on the property.
Staff writers Mark Reiter and Vanessa McCray contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6058.