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Published: Thursday, 3/28/2013

State could join Gerber murder investigation

Attorney general has looked into cases before; local officials don’t plan to seek his help

BY JIM PROVANCE AND VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office could turn its investigative powers on the Kaitlin Gerber murder-suicide case if asked to do so by local officials, who said they are conducting their own reviews.

Attorney General Mike DeWine has been involved in investigations before.

Late last year, Mr. DeWine was pulled into the aftermath of a Cleveland-area police chase and shootout that occurred Nov. 29 and ended with the deaths of two men who police believed, apparently mistakenly, to have fired at them.

The attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation was asked to lead the follow-up investigation by Cuyahoga Prosecutor Tim McGinty and East Cleveland officials. When the dust cleared, the BCI report issued in February found that multiple communications and other elements designed to “put a brake” on such incidents suffered a “systemic failure” that night.

The 22-minute car chase began in downtown Cleveland and proceeded to a parking lot in the suburb of East Cleveland. Thirteen officers fired their weapons that night and the two men in the chased vehicle were killed. But no gun was found in the vehicle, and it was subsequently determined the original bang some believed to be a gunshot fired from the car was likely the vehicle backfiring.

Mr. DeWine said Tuesday he has no authority to intervene and conduct an investigation in the Lucas County fatal shooting without an invitation from the county prosecutor or other local authority.

His office cited state law that authorizes BCI to investigate locally or provide assistance “when requested by local officials.”

The statute specifically states the help shall be provided “without disturbing or impairing any of the existing law enforcement authority or the prerogatives of local law enforcement authorities or officers.”

Miss Gerber’s family contends legal-system missteps allowed her killer, Jashua Perz, to be released from custody despite the threat he posed and his violation of a protection order. He fatally shot the 20-year-old Sunday and then killed himself.

Sylvania Law Director Jim Moan has begun to review the case and will look into its policies and procedures. He won’t request the attorney general’s involvement.

“I see no reason that we can’t handle this internally,” Mr. Moan said.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates has promised “very close scrutiny on what happened.” Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division, said he doesn’t know of any plans to reach out to the attorney general.

The bureau is often asked by local officials to become involved in investigations.

“When there is a shooting and they need a crime-scene analysis [in Lucas County], it’s a very common thing to ask us for help because the Bowling Green lab is so close to Toledo,” said Mr. DeWine’s spokesman, Dan Tierney.

Last year, BCI was involved to some extent in 1,600 such investigations in 421 local jurisdictions, including 65 investigations in Lucas County. It’s much less common, however, for BCI to be asked to fully take over a local investigation.

BCI provides DNA, chemical, ballistics, and other testing; fingerprint comparisons; computer forensics, and old-fashioned investigative legwork. But the only area in which the attorney general has original jurisdiction, one in which he can step into an investigation without local invitation, is Medicaid fraud.

Toledo City Law Director Adam Loukx said he’s satisfied with how Toledo prosecutors handled the case and won’t do “any further investigation.”

He is considering taking a general look at how domestic violence cases are handled.

“We want desperately to make certain that anything we can do to prevent the tragedies of this nature — that we are doing,” he said. “Any future inquiry would be: Can we do something better, is there something we can do?”

The coroner’s office has authority to launch inquests and issue subpoenas, but its “legal mandate” involves determining “the cause and manner of death,” and not whether “the system worked properly,”said Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner.

“It’s very clear what happened to this unfortunate young lady,” he said of Miss Gerber. “She died of gunshot wounds, and someone did it intentionally.”

Dr. Patrick has conducted only one inquest since he took office in 1985. That case involved the probable drowning of a 15-year-old boy, and following the 1985 inquest he could not rule it homicide or accidental, according to a story in The Blade.

Coroner inquests are rare, said Crawford County Coroner Dr. Michael Johnson, president of the Ohio State Coroners Association. He’s never called for one in his 12 years in office.

Thomas Hagel, a University of Dayton law professor and acting judge at Dayton Municipal Court, said inquests declined in frequency with the advance of scientific tools to determine cause of death.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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