While free, a violent suspect could threaten the public,
maybe even kill
ack Blake Jr. pointed a gun at his wife, Jenny, and ordered her to get into the car. As they circled Interstate 270, he told her that he planned to kill her and then himself.
Blake had been seething since Jenny had used the word “divorce,” but on that day in July 2011, Jenny managed to save her own life by lying, telling him they could save their marriage.
Jenny called the police the next day and her husband was jailed, but for only one night after posting bond. Sixteen days later, a Franklin County grand jury indicted Jack Blake on a charge of kidnapping, and a warrant was issued. But deputy sheriffs didn’t have time to immediately look for Blake. When they went to serve the warrant 13 days later, local law enforcement said that a paperwork mix-up led them to the wrong address.
The next day, Blake shot and killed Jenny, a 28-year-old mother of three, in front of their Far East Side home. Hours later, Blake, 32, killed himself.
“They should have got him before he got my daughter,” said Annette Shamblin, Jenny Blake’s mother.
When warrants go unserved and suspects run free, there is always a risk they will commit more crimes. Jenny Blake’s case illustrates how dangerous that can be.
Records from across the nation quantify the open-warrant epidemic, but no one tracks or truly knows how often people commit other violent crimes while they remain on the street. Finding such cases requires combing through each file. Crime experts know it happens, and too often.
“This is a serious public-safety threat. These are the guys police need to focus on,” said Richard Rosenfeld, professor emeritus of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and an expert on criminal justice policy for more than 30 years.
“Bottom line is, we all want to know that these people at-large are being picked up — especially the victims. But the reality is many aren’t. And it can lead to more victims.”
Stopping those with open warrants from re-offending proves even harder in states such as Ohio, where participation in a statewide system to track warrants is voluntary.
Just a fraction of open arrest warrants in Ohio are reported to the state’s Law Enforcement Automated Data System, or LEADS, according to summary data the State Highway Patrol provided at the request of The Dispatch. That means police in other jurisdictions won’t know about the warrant.
As of August, LEADS held more than 212,000 active warrants from police agencies across the state. Just 4,910 of those warrants were for violent crimes. However, an examination of open-warrant records in courts just in the state’s six largest urban counties showed more than 289,000 open warrants, and more than 23,000 cases involving violence, weapons or sex crimes. Charges ranged from domestic violence to aggravated murder.
Even fewer Ohio warrants are reported to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center: Just 11,019 of the 212,000 LEADS warrants had been reported to the NCIC, which alerts police nationwide about a fugitive’s status.
A snapshot of open warrants in Franklin County Common Pleas and Municipal courts in February showed more than 60,000 open warrants, including more than 5,000 felony warrants. The LEADS data suggests that the Franklin County sheriff’s office enters most felony warrants from common pleas.
But the county entered very few of the county’s tens of thousands of misdemeanor warrants, including warrants for domestic violence and assault. The sheriff sent 238 misdemeanor warrants, and Columbus Police sent two.
“It’s inexplicable — a total failure that with all this data and technology, that all those warrants don’t show up for officers everywhere,” said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Ted Barrows, who has been pushing for reform for years.
“To know that these people in some of our most serious cases with domestic violence and assault are living among us with these kind of warrants is troubling,” he said. “I don’t know whose responsibility it is to enter all those warrants in the state system, but it should be done by someone and done accurately.”
The Columbus Police Division doesn’t put misdemeanor warrants into LEADS because the task of entering them and tracking them to do timely updates can’t be accomplished with current staffing levels in the records bureau, said Susan Deskins, the bureau’s manager.
As it is, entering felony warrants and other information required by LEADS takes about two dozen people to enter the information and five who do nothing but routinely validate the information to make sure it’s current, she said. The timely updates are critical, for instance, to make sure someone who is picked up on a warrant and gets bonded out isn't still shown as having an active warrant.
“I’d need a tremendous jump in staff, maybe 10 times what I have,” if misdemeanor warrants were to be added to the bureau’s responsibilities, Deskins said.
Besides, officers who do records checks in Franklin County are alerted about misdemeanor warrants through the local criminal-history database, which the Municipal Court clerk’s office updates twice a day, she said.
The Columbus police records bureau recently began exploring the possibility of entering some of the most-serious misdemeanor warrants into LEADS, thus making them available to officers outside Franklin County, but a final decision hasn’t made, Deskins said.
In Michigan, agencies are required by law to report every warrant, no matter how minor, to the state’s Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN. As of August, that system held more than 1 million warrants, about one for every 10 people in the state.
That helps officers know when they’re facing potentially violent suspects while making an arrest or traffic stop, said Kevin Collins, manager of the Michigan State Police Field Support Section, which manages LEIN.
“From an officer-safety standpoint, officers need to know what the person they’re pulling over knows,” Collins said.
After the Blake case, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien held monthly meetings with local officials to prevent similar breakdowns in cases. O’Brien cited a lack of communication and new personnel who didn’t implement proper procedures in Blake’s case.
The long-time prosecutor said that finding suspects with violent pasts should be a priority for everyone in the criminal justice system.
“When arrest warrants aren’t served on serious criminals, they are out there committing more serious crimes,” O’Brien said. “Many of these people with the warrants are career criminals, so they don’t say, ‘Well, I got caught, so I won’t commit any more crimes.’ They are out there doing more burglaries, robberies or worse to support a drug addiction or some other bad motive.”
Crossing the border
Lamar Wiese grabbed his girlfriend, Joann Savard, by the hair, repeatedly threatened to burn down her mother’s home to kill her family, pinned her to a chair and choked her until she passed out.
A warrant was issued after the repairman failed to appear for a court hearing on a charge of battery in Sarasota, Florida, in September 1994, and he fled the state before authorities could find him. He would go on to commit other assaults in both Ohio and Minnesota over the years, as well as theft and disorderly conduct.
Wiese will never face justice for what he did to Savard. He died of a drug overdose five years ago in Ohio at the age of 48.
Savard said she cut off all ties with her abuser and put the incident “out of my mind” for 24 years, glad that he never contacted her again.
“I feel sorry for the other women he hurt, because no other woman deserves that,” she said. “I’m just sorry he never did what he was supposed to do or got help.”
When local authorities can’t find a potential re-offender, it’s often because the suspect has fled to another state. Sometimes, police discover an offender with a warrant in another state and figure out a way to extradite him or her. But other times, no one is aware that the suspect is accused of a crime in another state, or local law enforcement don’t have the manpower or money to go bring back the suspect.
Gary Jay Haenzel has a long history of rape allegations. In 1978, he was accused of raping and killing an elderly neighbor while he was baby-sitting a toddler. He was convicted of manslaughter, but that was overturned because the toddler was the main witness against him.
While he was out on bond during that trial, Haenzel raped a young woman at knifepoint.
He was sentenced to 25 years in that case and returned to Columbus from prison in 2002. In 2005, Columbus police said he raped another woman. A warrant was issued, and it remains open today. Haenzel had fled to Colorado.
There, Haenzel struck again: Authorities arrested him in January 2006 for raping a woman at knifepoint. They said he was driving a car he’d stolen in Ohio. And he gave deputies in Archuleta County, Colorado, a fake name.
Haenzel now is serving a 27-year prison sentence in Colorado under another name: Gary Hauk. Still, Colorado authorities were able to connect the man they’d arrested to Haenzel and his Columbus warrant, said Alex Lowe, a deputy assistant district attorney for the region that includes Archuleta County. If he ever leaves prison there, Ohio authorities will get a crack at him.
Faint sobs came from the back of the courtroom just before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles A. Schneider sentenced Hakeem Johnston for murder.
Johnston was convicted of shooting and killing 23-year-old Laquam Grasty during a 2017 robbery in Columbus.
Seven weeks before the murder, a warrant had been filed for Johnston because he had violated probation on a gun-related conviction from 2015 by possessing another gun.
Schneider’s voice was filled with exasperation as he told Johnston he would spend the rest of his life in prison, and the judge lectured everyone sitting in court about cases involving guns.
“Almost all the murders we see down here are over some trivial dispute, over nothing,” the judge said. “Someone gets mad and they pull the trigger.”
Warrants related to gun charges are usually a higher priority for law enforcement agencies. It often means that someone is more likely to re-offend. It’s why Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order aimed at closing gaps in the national gunbuyer background-check system. The order requires all “fugitives of justice” to be entered into the LEADS system.
But Jeremy Hansford, the data systems administrator who handles LEADS for the State Highway Patrol, conceded that entering those cases into the system will have little effect on the large number of warrants that don’t make it into LEADS.
The term “fugitives of justice” carries a very narrow meaning, he said. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a fugitive of justice is someone who has left the state to avoid prosecution or testimony. That narrow definition won’t force many more warrants into the system, Hansford said.
Shamblin, Jenny Blake’s mother, will never understand how a man who put a gun to her daughter’s head wasn’t picked up immediately and put in jail.
Shamblin was on vacation when she received the call telling her that Jenny was dead. Since that day, the grandmother has been raising Jenny’s children, who are now 8, 16 and 18.
Not only did deputies wait almost two weeks to serve the warrant for Blake, but he actually was standing in domestic relations court the day after the warrant was issued. Jenny had asked for a restraining order, but no one in court that day was aware that Blake was a fugitive.
Every year on Jenny’s birthday, Shamblin takes her grandchildren to the cemetery in Pataskala, where they release balloons into the sky with messages for their mom. The hardest part for Shamblin is when her youngest grandchild asks when he will see his mommy again.
“I don’t want other people to have to go through this,” Shamblin said. “If someone is violent and they have one of these warrants, especially for something with a gun, go get them and lock them up right away.”
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