I-Team: Convicted former police detective remains free after abducting teen from school

NOTE: This story contains graphic language that some may consider offensive

CINCINNATI -- A former Cincinnati police detective hasn't served any time in prison after he was convicted of pulling a teenager out of school and putting him in jail, despite knowledge that the boy was innocent.

In 2009, Julian Steele, then a detective with the Cincinnati Police Department, threatened a 17-year-old boy into confessing to a series of Northside robberies he didn't commit. The teen was locked up for nine days.

"Just took my whole world away, just threw me in jail," the teen told I-Team Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe.

WCPO is not identifying the teen because other than this false arrest, he has never been in trouble with the law.

Steele sought to take the boy into custody after witnesses to one of the robberies reported the description of three suspects entering a Cadillac that was registered to the boy's mother. The first day Steele attempted to interview the teen and his siblings at school, they were not there, which raised Steele's suspicions. He returned the next day and took the suspects to be interviewed at a police station.

"(Steele) three times told me that in fact he knew this kid didn't have anything to do with the case, but he had pulled him out of school, questioned him, and subsequently locked him up to ensure his mother's cooperation," said Hamilton County Municipal Judge Megan Shanahan, the assistant prosecutor for Hamilton County at the time of the teen's arrest.

The former detective locked the boy up using a tactic he described as "bullshitting" (a term that refers to arresting people on less than probable cause in the hope that something promising will result) in an effort to get cooperation in the investigation, and threatened the boy in the station interview to gain a confession, telling him if he didn’t confess, his mother would go to prison and he would never see his siblings again.

"All my life, I said I was never going to be in trouble… Next thing you know, I end up in jail," the teen said.

According to prosecutors, detective Steele was having sex with the innocent boy's mother while the teen was in jail.

"He calculatingly preyed on innocent people for his own sexual pleasure; that goes so far beyond what a normal person is expected to do, let alone a police officer," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said she thought the teen had been sent home after the initial arrest, but the moment she learned the boy was innocent after conversations with Steele, she personally went to the Juvenile Detention Center and set him free.

"That was just the best day of my life," the teen said of the release.

"The poor mother, she's being told by Det. Steele the whole time, 'I'm the only one who can get your child out, and if you don't do this for me and with me, he will stay locked up,'" Shanahan said.

Steele was tried on 10 felony counts, including intimidation, abduction and rape. He was convicted in 2010 of intimidating and abducting the teen, but a jury decided that if there were any sexual relations between the detective and the boy's mother, it was consensual, and Steele was acquitted of the rape charges.

Despite the convictions, Steele hasn't served a day behind bars through a process of appeals. Even after the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the convictions in June of 2013 , saying his actions were no different than a kidnapper's, the former officer remains a free man.

 

MORE: The Supreme Court's decision
Complete oral arguments made on this case at Ohio Supreme Court

"I'm innocent," Steele told WCPO. "And that's the reason I have been fighting. I am innocent."

"This is a very unique case. This is a police officer who made an arrest during a police investigation," Gloria Smith, Steele's attorney, said. "That's what he's convicted of. He's convicted of doing his job."

The teen doesn't think it was a fair treatment.

"They was so quick to put me in jail, but then when the tables are turned, he just walk free," the teen said of Steele's freedom. "Do they even really care?"

This is the first time in Ohio that an officer has been convicted of abduction for making a false arrest, and because of that, Steele was not immediately jailed until the precedent on the ruling was set, which is currently held up on the appeals that Steele and his lawyer have made.

The Supreme Court interpreted the ruling against Steele as follows:
A police officer has reasonable or probable cause to arrest when the events leading up to the arrest,

“viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to” probable cause. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996). Probable cause exists when there are facts and circumstances within the police officer’s knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect is committing or has committed an offense. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 96, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964), citing Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 162, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925). If an arrest is made without probable cause, the arrest is constitutionally invalid. State v. Timson, 38 Ohio St.2d 122, 127, 311 N.E.2d 16 (1974)

"If I were the judge, he wouldn't be walking free," Shanahan said.

Steele and his attorney argue that the 2013 Ohio Supreme Court ruling against Steele will have a chilling effect on officers and their confidence in making arrests.

"They need to be careful -- we already have a hard job, or had a hard job, as being a police officer, and now we're going to be second guessed," Steele said.

Judge Shanahan feels differently.

"It's not going to have any chilling effect whatsoever. Julian Steele wasn't acting like a police officer, he was acting like an animal," Shanahan said.

Steele and his attorney have submitted a new appeal currently in the hands of the Ohio Supreme Court, claiming he didn't know the boy was innocent at the time of the arrest. Read that appeal here.

Steele's five year sentence would have been coming to an end in the next year had he not appealed and stayed out of prison. Instead, Steele remains free, even having his electronic monitoring device removed.

The teen's family says they are preparing a lawsuit against the Cincinnati Police Department.

Read Steele's full personnel file with the Cincinnati Police Department (NOTE: Strong language used in some parts):

PART 1

 

PART 2

 
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