Prosecutor finds I-Team investigation on lax penalties for heroin dealers 'hard to believe'

I-Team: Repeat traffickers getting probation
Posted at 4:51 PM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 10:31:59-05

CINCINNATI -- Prosecutor Joe Deters reiterated his surprise Friday morning that some criminals convicted of heroin trafficking and gun crimes in Hamilton County are facing little to no prison time.

"I find it hard to believe," Deters said on 700 WLW Thursday.

Host Bill Cunningham had asked Deters about whether anyone arrested with both drugs and guns received a light sentence, as the I-Team investigation found. Deters said he was having his staff look into the report.

"We do not dismiss gun specs, period," Deters said. 

Deters repeated his dismay on WEBN's KiddChris radio show Friday morning. However, WCPO's report does indeed show at least one offender receiving probation for weapons-related charges. The I-Team examined about 4,000 documents filed last year and identified 164 heroin-related cases in which dealers were charged, convicted and sentenced in Hamilton County in 2016.

Among those was the case of Terrick Lomax, who was charged with trafficking between 10-50 grams of heroin and possessing a loaded gun in March 2016, according to court records. Lomax was not allowed to have a firearm because of a previous conviction. He was convicted of trafficking in heroin and weapons while under disability.

According to court records, Lomax faced sentences of up to 36 months for each crime. Instead, he received probation.

The I-Team's investigation found that 43 percent of those convicted in heroin- and fentanyl-trafficking cases in Hamilton County received no prison time and were instead placed on probation.

WEBN Host Christopher Foley sympathized with Deters, proclaiming "this sucks when the news jumps in, and they didn't even call you or anything."

"Well, they did call," Deters said. "It was such nonsense that we didn’t respond."

WCPO reached out to Deters multiple times for an interview while reporting on the I-Team investigation. 

"The law changed drastically a few years ago so that felony fours and felony fives, there’s a presumption for probation," Deters told Foley. "They are supposed to not lock them up. They have to let them out. If they lock them up, it’s an appealable order." 

MORE: Are penalties too lax for heroin dealers?

In some cases, those convicted after being caught with larger amounts of drugs received lesser sentences than those with smaller amounts of drugs. William Cogar was sentenced to probation after he was caught with between 5-10 grams of heroin and fentanyl.

Similarly, Jermel Overton was caught with between 10-50 grams of carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer blamed in last summer's rash of overdoses, and was sentenced to probation. After just three weeks on intensive supervision, his level of supervision was reduced.  Sean Senior also received probation after he was caught with between 10-50 grams of heroin, as well as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl, according to court records.

However, Dwayne Pierson was sentenced to 12 months in prison for selling less than a gram of heroin.

Deters, not citing any specific cases, said there are "all kinds of factors" that go into sentencing, including work informants do with the police or the presumption of probation.

"It happens constantly with the sheriff's office, with the federal investigators," Deters said. "That's the way it works. Getting the guy for selling some small amount of heroin doesn’t do any good. You have to go up the chain, find out who's done it, who's selling this, who's bringing it into Hamilton County, and then go after the big guys."

Go here to read the I-Team's investigation.