In an early morning press release, Hamilton County's top prosecutor blamed a suspended Hamilton County judge's decision for the deaths of two Cincinnati men.
Prosecutor Joe Deters' office sent the statement, detailing that blame, to the media Thursday morning at 6:16 a.m.
The release comes days before the suspended judge, Tracie Hunter, is set to be tried on nine felony counts in Hamilton County. Hunter's trial starts Monday with jury selection.
In October 2013, Hunter was to decide sentencing in a drug trafficking case against then 17-year-old Tywuane Thomas. The state asked to have Thomas committed to a "secure facility" after Deters said the teen was convicted of 36 priors; all done under the juvenile court system. Hunter heard the case, but decided to release Thomas instead of taking probation's recommendation to house Thomas in the department of youth services custody until he turned 21-years-old.
In lieu of jail time, Hunter ordered Thomas to attend outpatient treatment, school and work, Deters' statement showed. Thomas had previously been committed to Hillcrest, Abraxas and Paint Creek. Those commitments were "failed" attempts at reforming Thomas' conduct, court filings show.
FOX19 could not find any public statements from prosecutors following that hearing until the press release sent from Deters' office this morning. Prosecutors did appeal Hunter's decision, but that case file had been sealed by Hamilton County ever since. A hearing was scheduled for Monday, but the First District Court of Appeals clerk's office told FOX19, the case was dismissed today.
Thomas, who was 18-years-old when he was shot August 19 in Avondale, died from his wounds the next day. Deters said in the statement, Thomas shot and killed 21-year-old Antwon Ward and someone else shot Thomas during the August shooting that happened on Carplin Place.
judge made terrible mistake, she is consistently trying to let kids out that shouldn't
be let out of prison," Deters said in a phone call with FOX19 NOW Thursday night.
In the release, Deters wrote, "This is the unfortunate sort of scenario that we envisioned when we wanted Judge Hunter to commit Thomas to DYS. He clearly needed the structured setting of DYS if he were to have any chance of changing his life for the better. Had Thomas been at DYS, both he and Ward might still be alive today."
"Sometimes commitment to the Department of Youth Services can effectively protect teenagers who are dealing in violence. Judge Hunter has consistently said that she is doing this, "for the children." Well, now we have a dead one," Deters wrote in his statement.
JUVENILE COURT FILE
The Hamilton County clerk's office unsealed the case file against Tywaune Thomas Thursday after FOX19 called to ask why it was sealed in the first place. The First District Court of Appeals clerk's office told FOX19 the juvenile criminal record was the only portion of the file that was supposed to be sealed and the clerk's office "erred" by sealing the entire file.
In the file, prosecutors argued Tracie Hunter did not follow judicial rules when she decided against committing Thomas to a secure facility. The file shows previous attempts to commit Thomas "failed" after his escape from the Abraxas juvenile facility. The record shows Thomas was "given several opportunities" outside of being committed to a secure facility, but that he "was charged with eight more offenses," in the interim.
The appeals filing shows Hunter initially sentenced Thomas to a six month stint in the department of youth services, but later suspended that order during the same hearing in which she ordered it. Hunter reviewed Thomas' previous placements and found an instance where she thought the state incorrectly placed Thomas in a juvenile facility. "It does not appear that he should have been sent away," the appeals filing quotes Hunter as saying, "And so in this Court's effort to rectify what apparently has occurred, I feel the best way we can rectify it."
Hunter suspended Thomas' six month sentence and sentenced him to treatment and ordered him to regularly attend school and work.
"It's not even clear from the record what she (Hunter) believed – she said that she was not sure if the court previously had followed the law or made a mistake," assistant Hamilton County prosecutor Rachel Curran wrote in the appeals filing.
"Judge Hunter wrongly believed that T.D.T. (Thomas) could not have been placed at Hillcrest, Paint Creek and Abraxas. Her decision to ‘fix' this problem by not committing T.D.T to DYSA when he committed trafficking in heroin, carrying a concealed weapon, and a new probation violation for leaving his prior placement is arbitrary, unreasonable and unconscionable," Curran wrote.
"THEY'RE BLAMING THE WRONG PERSON"
Nakeshia Thomas was inside her Prospect Place apartment Thursday morning when we found her. She was wearing a shirt with a picture of her son, Tywaune, on it. Thomas had not heard the news or seen the press release the county's top prosecutor sent out, blaming suspended judge Tracie Hunter for her son's death two weeks ago.
"It was not Tracie Hunter's fault," Thomas told FOX19, "The system made a mistake and Tracie Hunter basically went by what she knew, by the law. By what she felt was right." Thomas was referring to an Oct. 2013 decision by Hunter to release her son with orders to attend outpatient treatment, to attend school and work.
Thomas read the release from Deters' office after we showed a printed copy to her. "I'm not about to sit here and sugar coat nothing about what my son did," Thomas said, "Yeah, it was wrong what he did, but at the same time, somebody killed my son, too."
When Tywaune Thomas went before Hunter in October, prosecutors argued the teen's 36 prior convictions on drug-related charges should have been enough to commit the teen to the state juvenile justice prison system. Deters also pointed out in the press release that, "Thomas had a history of running from unsecured placements and violating the Electronic Monitoring Unit (EMU)," which was another reason the state argued for Hunter to commit Thomas.
The teen's family didn't want him committed and agreed with Hunter's decision to keep him out of a secured facility. "There was no reason to lock him up, he wasn't charged with anything violent. It was just a bunch of drug stuff," Thomas said.
Nakeshia Thomas said she was never contacted by Deters' office about the press release, blaming Hunter for her son's death by not having him locked up in October. Thomas said she was concerned about the timing of Deters' press release, given the fact that Tracie Hunter's trial is set to being Monday in Hamilton County, "It's a shame they're bringing up my son death on her hearing. It don't make no sense. A lot of this don't make sense and it's not adding up," Thomas told FOX19.
"I don't blame her and I hope she understands that I don't blame her. I really don't blame Tracie Hunter because that day she did what she was supposed to have done," Thomas said.
"If you don't blame Tracie Hunter, how can Joe Deters blame Tracie Hunter," FOX19 investigative reporter Jody Barr asked Thomas. "I don't see how he can," Thomas said. "My son's name should not even have come up with her trial coming up or none of that. Now, it makes it seem that they don't care—the prosecutor—they don't care about what happened to my son. They're just basically trying to get Tracie Hunter," Thomas said.
We've asked Hunter's attorney for an interview concerning the statement from the Hamilton County prosecutor, but as of this report, we have not received a statement.
We reached out to Deters' office for an interview. Deters' office told FOX19 he would not be available Thursday for an interview, but would be available Friday.