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Victim advocates say witness intimidation is stalling dozens of unsolved homicide cases

OTR shooting Cincinnati Police
Posted at 8:46 PM, Mar 21, 2022

CINCINNATI — A connection between scores of unsolved homicides has victim advocates fed up and asking for help fighting back.

Amanuell Odle, 21, was the first and, so far, only homicide victim in Over-The-Rhine this year. The way Karen Rumsey sees it, though, there is hardly room for any more grief in the area.

"Explain to a mother how life goes on when violence happened. Her child was murdered and there are no answers," said Rumsey, the Cincinnati Police Department's health program and witness advocacy manager. "So they need a tour guide, and that's kind of how I coin myself. I'm that tour guide."

Half of Rumsey's job involves calming and comforting children, like a trio who saw their father stab their mom in December. The rest of her work involves helping detectives and families through challenges that bind together packets of unsolved crimes.

"Right in this area where we're standing in Grant Park, you have Leonard Powell, Mr. Rodger, Mr. Grant, (and) James Hazel — all victims," Rumsey said.

Of the five pages of unsolved murders in CPD's District 1, 22 happened in OTR in the last four years. Ten of those fell on East McMicken Avenue, which police consider a hotspot for shootings.

"You just don't know when there's a shooting going to happen or a drive-by," said Misty Staken, a parent whose child goes to school nearby.

That area is also home to significant intimidation keeping witnesses from talking to police. None of the families of victims approached by WCPO 9 News felt safe speaking publicly.

"It's really kind of hard to sort out," Rumsey said. "How am I safe now? Is somebody coming back to get me and my family? From as far back as unsolved homicides exist in Cincinnati, most of the detectives know who the homicide suspect is and who did it. You just don't have enough information to bring that case forward, right?"

It is why Rumsey's team of advocates, all trained social workers, share office space and tips with detectives. Their Cincinnati Citizens Respect Our Witnesses (CCROW) program sometimes relocates people with critical information about cases and the team invites others to vent firsthand details.

"Often people will give families information and tell them who they believe did it," Rumsey said. "So that team, that partnership between the family and the homicide detectives is crucial."

Combined with February's launch of PIVOT, a Cincinnati Police strategy teaming up everyone from city code enforcers to shop owners in order to pressure and push out bad actors has District 1's commander optimistic that a safer OTR is around the corner.

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