Why court battle waged by families of Anthony Sowell victims matters to us all: Andrea Simakis
CLEVELAND, Ohio - On September 17, Joanne Moore will get her day in court.
"It's taken so long," she says. Eight years. But it's worth the wait. Because it's for Janice.
In a 2010 lawsuit, Moore argued cops and prosecutors had Anthony Sowell in their sights when he was arrested for the attempted rape and kidnapping of Gladys Wade in December 2008. They held him less than 72 hours.
Just 10 months later, the bodies of 11 women were discovered in and around Sowell's duplex on Imperial Avenue. Based on reports of when friends and loved ones saw them last, it is believed as many as six were killed after his release.
Moore's sister, Janice Webb, was among them.
Relatives of other murdered women joined her fight to hold the city accountable for the grisly deaths of their kin.
"The city has been fighting us tooth and nail for years," says family attorney Terry Gilbert. "Frank Jackson is the ultimate decision maker here. He can make one phone call and say, 'Give 'em some reasonable compensation so they feel they got some justice.' "
According to court documents, Gladys Wade had never seen Anthony Sowell before he wished her a Merry Christmas and asked her to share a beer nearly 10 years ago. She said no thank you. He wouldn't let her pass.
When she tried to push by him, he punched her in the face and dragged her toward the back of his house. He choked her and she blacked out. She awoke on the third floor.
"Bitch, take off your clothes," he demanded. Wade clawed at his eyes. She kicked and screamed. At some point, she reached between his legs, grabbed and twisted. She careered down some steps, smashing her hand through glass in a door.
Shivering in a thermal shirt and jeans and bleeding from a gash in her thumb, Wade flagged down a police cruiser.
Officers called EMS - she would need stitches - and noted the red marks on her throat. They arrested Sowell and took shots of the blood on the walls and stairs of his house, and of Wade's black and white sweater, shoved into a trash can.
Detective Georgia Hussein caught the case but never talked to the arresting officers in an investigation which a defense expert said was best described "as shoddy, incomplete, and biased."
Had Det. Hussein taken the time to do what we've seen cops on TV do - pull photos of the crime scene and the injuries to both Wade and Sowell, access Wade's medical records and get a search warrant to comb through Sowell's house - "Sowell's case would have been brought before the grand jury and six lives would have been saved," concluded Joseph Matthews.
Among his qualifications, the retired Miami Beach sex crimes and homicide detective is credited with solving the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh.
"Not only was Hussein's work in the case unacceptable by national law enforcement standards," Matthews wrote, "but also in terms of basic common sense."
City attorney Gary Singletary did not respond to a request for comment.
In a 2013 deposition, Hussein said there were "inconsistencies" in Wade's story. Wade didn't look like she'd been punched in the face when she came downtown to give a statement the next day, Hussein reasoned. The detective didn't tell the prosecutor that Sowell had spent 15 years in prison for attempted rape, because she didn't believe the information was relevant.
Citing "insufficient evidence" and a victim who was "not credible," the prosecutor opted not to charge Sowell. Once freed, continued to rape, murder and dismember.
It took another victim, naked and falling out of Sowell's window, to finally bring cops back his door.
When asked at that same deposition if police brass ever questioned her work in the Wade investigation, Hussein said that then police chief Michael McGrath assured her that "he felt I had done my job," she said . . . "Basically commending me, saying the mayor's office felt I did my job."
Under Ohio law, cities and their employees are not responsible for harm they cause because of negligence. However, they are liable if their employees were reckless, defined as "a perverse disregard of a known risk."
Based on a review of the evidence, a three-judge panel in the Eighth District Court of Appeals found that "reasonable minds" could conclude that "Det. Hussein acted in a reckless manner."
Now it's up to a jury to decide. Also under Ohio law, the city has to cover any damages Hussein is assessed.
Hussein retired in 2010. And Moore? She and the other women have hung together through years of motions and setbacks and settlement conferences that go nowhere.
She can't help but feel the city is trying to wear them down. Tire them out. But they won't give up.
For that they deserve our thanks.
A big verdict against the city might motivate change, says Wade's lawyer Blake Dickson.
If city officials are having such a hard time admitting the Wade investigation was so deficient that it could hardly be called an investigation at all, how can any of us expect current and future rape cases to be handled any better?
The city owes us something too - a place to feel safe.