ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge said he wasn’t happy about sentencing a Lorain man who had pleaded guilty to drug charges and a string of burglaries to probation on Friday, but he felt he had no choice.
“I’m stuck,” the judge said.
Burge said he had promised Jeremy Roldan that he wouldn’t send him to prison when the 20-year-old entered guilty pleas in his cases in March and felt he had to keep his word. But the judge also said that was before he learned additional details about Roldan and his crimes.
“The reason you’re not going to prison is we made a big mistake here. One probation violation and I’m going to correct it,” Burge told Roldan after warning him that he had at least three years’ worth of prison time he could impose.
The sentence didn’t sit well with prosecutors or Lorain police.
Lorain police Sgt. Buddy Sivert said that when Roldan was being questioned by Detective Jake Morris about the 10 burglaries he admitted to last year, Morris asked him what he would have done if he had encountered a homeowner during one of the break-ins.
“He told Morris that he would beat the (expletive) out of them so they couldn’t identify him,” he said.
Sivert said he considers burglary a violent crime, even if someone isn’t physically assaulted and Roldan had planned to attack someone if caught. To him, he said, that meant Roldan belonged in prison, not back on the streets.
“We understand on certain cases people deserve probation, but any crime of violence we don’t want probation,” he said.
Lorain police and other law enforcement agencies in the county have become more vocal over the past year about what they see as lenient sentences.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he, too, would have liked to see Roldan incarcerated. He said Roldan could have been involved in hundreds of burglaries over the years.
Both Burge and defense attorney Jenifer Berki said their recollection of the plea bargaining in the case is that Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer Riedthaler had agreed to defer to the court when it came to sentencing and Burge indicated he would be willing to give probation in the case.
Will said while he hasn’t reviewed a transcript of that hearing, he doesn’t believe Riedthaler agreed to remain silent and would have objected to a probation sentence. But he also said information about Roldan’s plan to beat any homeowner he encountered wasn’t included in the file originally sent over by Lorain police.
In the letter to Sivert, dated April 14, Burge wrote that Riedthaler had already negotiated the case by the time police forwarded the additional information about Roldan.
“Please have the men furnish this type of information with their reports to the grand jury,” Burge wrote. “Then otherwise, the assistant prosecutor will resolve the case with no input from the police. Everybody raises hell about it at sentencing, but the damage is done.”
Both Sivert and Burge said have talked and want to meet in the near future to discuss opening up communication so that similar incidents don’t happen. They said they would like Will or another prosecutor to be involved in those talks.
But Will said he has reservations about such a meeting because no one from the defense bar would be included. He said similar discussions in the past have included defense attorneys.
Will said he doesn’t have a problem with efforts being made to improve communications, although his office already talks to police on a regular basis.
“We are in communication with the police departments,” he said.
Burge said the problem with Roldan’s sentencing has led to him change how he will handle plea bargains in his courtroom going forward.
“I have committed that I will not commit to any sentence not agreed upon by both parties,” he said.