YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It seems that a state fund to help victims of crime financially may not be paying out equally. In the Mahoning Valley, there’s a large gap between black and white victims approved for claims.
Every time someone pays a traffic ticket in Ohio or pleads guilty to a crime, they’re usually ordered to pay court costs. Part of that money goes to the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund.
The idea is that criminals pay back their victims for what they took if the victim has no money or insurance. But in the Mahoning Valley, many people get turned down for the fund every year.
Looking at every claim made from Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties last year, it seems the system might be treating some victims unfairly.
Thousands of people apply to the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund every year and out of the hundred or so claims paid out in the Mahoning Valley last year, only 14 of them were to African Americans.
Two of Carrie Weaver’s seven sons, Rashad and Devon Bailey, were murdered within six months of each other. Rashad was stabbed by his girlfriend and Devon was shot in the chest.
“I think about them every day,” she said. “I don’t show my feelings, but it just hurt.”
Weaver applied to the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund to get help paying for their funerals.
“They denied me. Rashad had four kids. I thought I’d get something behind that because those are surviving kids,” she said.
The state said an autopsy turned up a morphine-based drug in his system.
Weaver only received $150 from the fund for Devon. The state denied most of her claim because she got a donation to cover funeral expenses. She says the donation didn’t cover nearly enough.“We had to do it ourselves. Family, friends, and the schools and the church.”
Kanai says some people are denied automatically.
“If you are a felon or have committed an act that would be deemed a felony in the last ten years, particularly ones related to drug abuse or crimes of violence.”
But Rashad’s criminal background didn’t include any drug charges or felony convictions in the last ten years. He was denied solely on the autopsy finding.
Another case that raises questions about that policy is the manhunt police launched for Ricco Acevedo.
In June 2015, Acevedo beat his ex-girlfriend, Carly Diamond, in Girard. She used to work as a nurse at Northside Hospital.
Until November of 2014, when the state took away Diamond’s nursing license, she admitted to taking narcotics from the hospital and using them herself.
One year later, the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund gave her $2,500 related to the beating.
One big difference? Diamond is white, Weaver and her sons are black.
This story is repeated all across the Valley. More than half the time, white victims of crime are paid their claims but only 28 percent of claims are approved for black victims.
“I think it would be very hard to argue that everything else can be explained away. That there isn’t a race effect,” said Dr. Valerie Callanan, who studies crime and victims of crime at Kent State University.
Weaver says it’s not fair.
“A lot of parents out here lost kids and they go down to the Victim of Crime, and they get denied too. They will try to bring up every little thing just to deny you.”
Weaver says she couldn’t afford to bury her sons or even buy urns. She keeps her boys’ ashes in cardboard boxes on the shelf.
The attorney general’s office assures that race does not play a part in their decisions on the Victims of Crime Compensation Fund. Spokesperson Dan Tierney gave the following statement:
The Crime Victim Services Section at the Attorney General’s Office works every day to make sure that those who meet the qualifications for victim compensation receive the funds to which they are entitled. A claim is approved if it meets the qualifications required by the Ohio Revised Code; or it is denied if it does not meet those qualifications. Race plays absolutely no role in the determination of whether a victim compensation claim is approved or denied.
When a denial must be made, it is often due to a person’s felony conviction or if a victim had felony drugs in his or her system at the time of the crime. Ohio Revised Code 2743.60(E)(1) does not give discretion to approve a claim in these circumstances; they are required by law to be denied.
In reference to the two cases you cited, claim #V15-20014 for Rashad Baily and claim #V15-80712 for Carly Diamond, the law was strictly followed to determine if an award could be made in each case.
It is important to point out that these cases are very dissimilar, which makes comparing their outcomes an “apples to oranges” comparison. Cases involving funeral expenses for a victim are much different than cases involving lost wages for a living victim – primarily with regard to the existence of a toxicology report. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office cannot order that toxicology be conducted on anyone – living or deceased – for the purposes of a victim compensation claim. However, when we are aware that a toxicology test was conducted as part of an investigation related to the alleged criminal conduct in one of our claims, which typically happens during death investigations, due diligence requires that we wait for the results of the test.
The claim for Rashad Bailey, a victim of homicide, had to be denied under Ohio law because we cannot award compensation if “the victim at the time of the criminally injurious conduct that gave rise to the claim engaged in conduct that was a felony violation of section 2925.11” ORC 2743.60(E)(1)(e). In this case, toxicology tests were ordered by local authorities upon Mr. Bailey’s death, which revealed that he had oxymorphone in his system, the use or possession of which without a valid prescription is felonious. Therefore, the law required that this claim be denied.
You also had concerns that both Carly Diamond and Rashad Bailey had been previously arrested, but only Mr. Bailey’s claim was denied. Arrests have no bearing on a decision to approve or deny a claim, except in situations where there is a preponderance of evidence that a felony act of violence or drug trafficking occurred (ORC 2743.60(E)(1)(c). Otherwise, if a victim was arrested, but does not have a disqualifying conviction, the arrest alone would not disqualify that person from being awarded a claim. Any felony conviction within the past 10 years is an automatic disqualifier, as well as misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangering convictions.
The Victims of Crime Compensation Fund spent $14 million in 2015, but only half of that went to the victims. The attorney general spent the rest on the 60 people who work in his office to run the fund.
Salaries account for about $5.5 million. The other $1.5 million goes to things like office supplies and software.
“We can’t really say, ‘x percentage of this amount of money is what should be spent’ because the amount of money that’s paid out in compensation can fluctuate wildly,” said Matt Kanai, who oversees the fund from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
There’s no guarantee how much the fund pays out. Fewer claims are being made to the fund and the total of claims paid out is now about half of what it was six years ago.
Even with fewer claims and half as many awards, the attorney general’s office isn’t working any faster.
It takes 96 days, on average, for victims to get money from the fund. The wait time has gone up every year since 2012. Back then, the wait time was two weeks shorter.
WKBN 27 First News will continue investigating this story to get answers from the attorney general’s office on why there is a gap in the Youngstown area. WKBN has already filed a public records request to see if these findings from the Valley carry through the rest of the state.