Prosecutor wrong in seeking to silence Youngstown officer
If anything, Youngstown Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin Casey tends to be rather strident when it comes to protecting the interests of rape victims, which is why we were taken aback by Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains' contention that Casey's comments about a recent rape case "demon strate a complete disregard for the feelings" of the victim.
Gains wants the courts to issue a gag order against the detective sergeant.
He was successful in persuading Juvenile Court Magistrate Donna McCollum to prohibit Casey from talking about two juveniles implicated in the Aug. 21 rape of the 21-year-old Boardman woman, and he is seeking a similar order from Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, who will preside over the trial of two adults in the case.
Jamar Callier, 21, is charged with two counts each of rape and aggravated robbery. He pleaded innocent and his bond was set at $800,000 cash. Andre Bundy, 18, is charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of conspiracy to aggravated robbery. He also pleaded innocent and bond was set at $300,000 cash.
Hearing: While Casey says she won't challenge the gag order imposed by Magistrate McCollum and will abide by such an order from the Common Pleas Court, we would hope that Judge Krichbaum conducts a full hearing to determine why the county prosecutor wants to muzzle a veteran Youngstown police officer with a reputation as an advocate for women who are victims of violent crimes.
We have long decried the use of the gag order not only in the criminal justice system, but in government in general. In 1999, we criticized Warren Mayor Hank Angelo for requiring department heads to consult with Safety Service Director Richard Thomas before they talked to news reporters. To us, it seemed that the mayor was attempting to manage the news, and we concluded that he was afraid of the truth about city government coming out.
Likewise, we were baffled last year when Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin , presiding over a case involving the Assemblies of God, issued a gag order that applied to "everyone present in court." Fortunately, she saw the error of her ways.
Now, Gains wants to deprive a police officer of her First Amendment right to free speech on the grounds that her comments in the rape case could deprive the defendants of a fair trial. The pretrial publicity generated by the case could taint the defendants' chances for such a trial, he says.
Duty: But it isn't the prosecutor's duty to protect the defendants' interests. That's up to their lawyers. Gains should be more concerned about building a watertight case against the four accused and not be distracted by the comments of a police officer.
If, on the other hand, there are other reasons for seeking a gag order, the prosecutor has a responsibility to make them known. It isn't enough for him to simply suggest that the victim is upset or that the defendants are being deprived of their rights to a fair trial.
It is noteworthy that Casey is no longer assigned to the case. If that reassignment is the result of her talking to the press, then free speech and freedom of the press have fallen victim to an overzealous prosecutor and overly compliant supervisors in the police department.