December 22, 2014

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Police union vows to fight release of violent offenders

LORAIN — The Lorain police union plans to monitor which judges let felons convicted of violent crimes out of prison early and share that information with the public if necessary.

Lorenzana

Lorain police Detective Buddy Sivert, who serves as vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Lorain, said Thursday the initiative is a direct response to the possibility that Andrew Lorenzana might be released from prison at a hearing next week before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers.

“We can’t sit by and just let these violent criminals get out without a fight,” Sivert said, adding that violent crime in the city has dropped since Lorain police began a campaign to crack down on gangs in 2010.

Lorenzana’s fate was originally in the hands of Common Pleas Judge James Burge, but he removed himself from the case last week after it was pointed out that Lorenzana’s father, Raul Lorenzana, was sitting on the bench with the judge before the April 5 hearing began.

Burge said at the time that he didn’t realize that Raul Lorenzana, himself a convicted felon, was related to Andrew Lorenzana, who was seeking early release from a five-year prison sentence. Raul Lorenzana, whom Burge said he’s known for years, came to court to observe the proceedings after the judge extended an invitation to a class the elder Lorenzana was taking at Lorain County Community College.

Burge said during the hearing that he had planned to release the younger Lorenzana and that he expected that would still happen.

He said Thursday that the police are welcome to watch his actions, but it won’t have an impact on what he does.

“I will probably do what I want, when I want, and if somebody wants to confront me about that, they could,” Burge said. “They can criticize me.”

Sivert said the police union isn’t worried about low-level, nonviolent offenders being given early release, a practice referred to as judicial release in legal circles. The idea, he said, is to keep track of which judges are releasing violent offenders into the community.

“We’re not trying to intimidate anybody,” Sivert said. “We’re not trying to force our will on anybody. We’re trying to protect the public.”

Ewers declined to comment on the Lorenzana case and the police union’s plans to monitor the decisions of judges.

Lorenzana’s case

Sivert said he and his fellow officers are concerned that Lorenzana, who was convicted of shooting a drug dealer who refused to sell him marijuana and other crimes, will fall back into a life of crime if he’s released before he’s served his full sentence.

Sivert said Lorenzana remains the prime suspect in the February 2009 shooting death of Christopher Lundberg in what police have described as a drug deal gone bad. Lorenzana and Avery Taylor were both charged with murder in the case, but those charges were later dropped.

Sivert said the case remains under investigation and has been forwarded to county Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office.

He also said Lorenzana was a member of the South Side Hardbodies, part of the notorious Bloods street gang, before he was sent to prison.

Detective Ray Colon, another police union member, said that while Lorenzana has been incarcerated at Mansfield Correctional Institution he’s been classified as an “active participant” in gang activity at the prison. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has reported that Lorenzana was disciplined for writing gang symbols on a prison wall and for having homemade wine.

Sivert said Lorain police have been dealing with Lorenzana since he was a juvenile. Although Lorenzana has been accused in a number of high-level felony cases, his lengthy criminal record was comprised of misdemeanors until he pled out in 2011.

Still, Sivert said he doesn’t buy Lorenzana’s claims that he’s turned his life around in prison and plans to become a barber when he’s released.

“If Andrew Lorenzana gets out and commits a violent act, there’s one person to blame — the judge who let him out,” Sivert said.

Judicial response

Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski said that he has to make hard decisions every time he takes the bench and usually one side or the other walks away unhappy.

“If I wanted an easy job, everybody who comes before me for sentencing would go to prison because freedom is a risk,” he said.

Betleski said there are a number of factors that come into play when a judge decides whether to give a criminal defendant probation, send them to prison or whether to let them out early.

He said sometimes plea bargains, agreed to by prosecutors, call for judicial release perhaps because the evidence in a particular case isn’t strong or some other reason. Betleski also said people have been watching his decisions since he took the bench and if someone doesn’t like those decisions they can vote against him in the next election.

“That’s the kind of pressure I’ve had since Jan. 3, 1999, and I embrace it,” Betleski said.

The county’s other judges, Christopher Rothgery, James Miraldi and John Miraldi, said they didn’t have a problem with the police union keeping tabs on their judicial release decisions.

“I have no problem with that,” Rothgery said. “Everything I do, every decision I make is part of the public record.”

John Miraldi said he understands the reasoning behind the police union’s plans.

“When it comes to early release of violent offenders, I share the concerns of not just a police union, but the community as a whole and while there is some discretion to the release procedure, there’s also some criteria that has to be met,” Miraldi said. “So I would not have any problem with the police union monitoring that because as a judge you have to be very cautious when it comes to judicial release and violent offenders.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.