Stay-at-home charges in Hamilton Co. mostly tacked to other crimes, but how and why remain unclear

Attorney: 'Police are taking it seriously'
Posted at 11:04 AM, Apr 22, 2020

Police have charged more than 70 people with violating Gov. Mike Dewine’s stay-at-home order in Hamilton County.

DeWine's March 23 order requires all non-essential businesses to close and for residents to stay home, except for essential trips like grocery shopping. Last week, DeWine extended that order to May 1.

As of Wednesday morning, there are 76 cases in which law enforcement officers have arrested and charged people with “violations prohibited,” or breaking the stay-at-home order. Of those cases, 59 involve males, and 17 involve females. Forty-seven are African American, while 21 are white. Race is not listed for the remaining eight people.

In nearly all cases, the charge was added on top of other charges, including theft, aggravated robbery and trespassing.

“Our officers have always, since this has gone into effect, warned people,” said Lt. Ron Murphy of the Norwood Police Department. “We’ve only charged people who were out committing crimes.”

Cincinnati police Chief Eliot Isaac said the same during last week’s City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting.

“We are not out here just stopping individuals for being out and about, going about their daily routine or the business that they need to," he said. "This is when there is a very clear violation of the order."

The department declined an interview with WCPO to discuss the numbers in detail, or explain how and why officers are choosing to add this charge to specific crimes.

“Due to the range of charges where this violation of the stay-at-home order is charged, it would be impossible to say why the officers concluded this charge would be appropriate to include," Cincinnati Lt. Steve Saunders said in a text message. "The only thing I could conclude would be the officer determined the surrounding facts and circumstances support the charge.”

More than a dozen law enforcement agencies in Hamilton County have charged at least one person with violating the order.

The Cincinnati Police Department has charged the most people — at least 25 — with two more charged by the gang unit.

“They were all charged with something else," Isaac said last week. "The violation of the order was subsequent to some other original change."

The Springfield Township Police Department has charged at least 10 people with breaking the order. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and Norwood Police each made several arrests, as well.

“This isn’t like a jaywalking charge or something like that. The police are taking it seriously, and ordinary citizens should also,” said defense attorney Mark Krumbein.

Krumbein, who is not involved in any of the 76 cases, said the order and the charge for breaking it both carry weight. Violating the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

He said the question of which judge takes a defendant's case can also influence how big of an impact the charge has.

“When it comes to charges, there’s always a bias," Krumbein said. "More is not merrier. Even a misdemeanor charge combined with a felony can make things worse. If you are out and getting in trouble, you can get a double whammy now."