STEUBENVILLE - City Manager Cathy Davison Saturday announced the launch of SteubenvilleFacts.org, a website designed to respond to rumors with facts regarding the investigation into the alleged rape of a 16-year- old girl in August by two Steubenville High School student-athletes.
The City Hall press conference was held one hour before activists organized by Anonymous gathered in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse to protest what they have described as a cover-up of the alleged sexual attack.
"Every one of us wants people to know women can be safe against sexual attacks. And justice will be done according to the rules of justice of the state of Ohio. We are open and transparent and we intend to respond to rumors with facts. Our website has been set up to provide only the facts and to update the case. We will not provide evidence in the case until after the case has been heard," said Davison.
"This website is sponsored by the city and the Steubenville Police Department. The goal of this site is to disseminate the most accurate information about a recent case involving sexual assault charges that are pending against two juveniles in Jefferson County Juvenile Court. City officials will update the site as new information becomes available," noted Davison.
"City leaders know that many people outside Eastern Ohio are interested in this matter and that people from other states and countries may not be familiar with some basic facts about the background of the case. This site is not designed to be a forum for how the juvenile court ought to rule in this matter," added Davison.
According to Davison, "Of the 38 officers in the Steubenville Police Department, approximately eight graduated from Steubenville City Schools. The remaining 30 officers graduated from other school districts in and out of Ohio."
Davison also announced that plans are being discussed, "to educate our children about underage drinking as well as the proper use of social media. And, we will discuss that sexual assault is wrong. We will be working in our community to have that conversation."
Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville have been charged with the alleged rape. Mays also has been charged with the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court. Visiting Judge Tom Lipps with preside over their trial, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 13.
"There are many people who believe the Big Red football team runs the city. That is simply not factual. We understand the passion of the protesters. They have the right to protest in the city. But we want justice to be done as much as they do. The evidence in this case has been obtained and forwarded to the special prosecutors in the Ohio attorney general's office. And the case will now be decided in a court of law," remarked Davison.
She was joined at the Saturday morning press conference in council chambers by 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs, A.L.I.V.E. Executive Director Jodi Scheetz and Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty.
"Members of the police department, like me, care about protecting the citizens against crime. I am glad we have announced the creation of the SteubenvilleFacts.org Website today. There are rumors out there and this Website will help our citizens to hear the facts about this case," Suggs explained.
"There will always be a small group of people who do things that are despicable and sometimes illegal. But our residents do not want the appalling acts to represent the city," Suggs said.
"City Council meets in regular session every other Tuesday. If you have something you want to share with us, please join us at our meetings. We welcome you," Suggs said.
Suggs later said a rally is set for noon next Saturday at Jim Wood Park.
"That rally is to show we have many good students in our schools," said Suggs.
According to Scheetz, "People who don't know our community should know our police department works very hard to do its job. I have worked with the police department to help victims of domestic assault."
Her organization, A.L.I.V.E., provides shelter to women and children who have been displaced due to domestic violence.
"I am also glad we are detailing the facts on this website," stated McCafferty.
"There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet about this case. We obtained the video that has recently been on the Internet very early in our investigation. We reviewed all of the evidence and forwarded everything to the special prosecutors assigned by the Ohio attorney general. They are in charge of deciding what charges have been and may be filed," said McCafferty.
"We have had several citizens file complaints with our department indicating they are subject to harassment. Several innocent people have been mentioned on the Internet who have nothing to do with the case. From day one, I have asked people to come forward with information about the alleged attack," said McCafferty.
"Unfortunately, things are being said on the Internet that aren't true. There are a lot of accusations out there. But we have to have evidence to take a case to court," cited McCafferty.
Davison said the city is a separate government entity from the city school district.
"The city does not run the school system or the football program. School districts are governed by independently elected school board members," Davison noted.
"I understand now that since the children have returned to school, counseling is available through the Jefferson Behavioral Health System. And, we are using all of the resources available to us. The city's IT director has been monitoring our Website minute by minute and we have not been hacked," declared Davison.
"Under Ohio law, the attorney general is elected by the voters of the state and does not have the independent jurisdiction or ability to undertake investigations or prosecutions of juvenile crime. In this case, the Jefferson County prosecuting attorney, who has such authority, delegated her authority to the attorney general's office to act as special prosecutor in the matter. The special prosecutors are not from the Steubenville area and graduated high school elsewhere," continued Davison.
"Special prosecutors in Ohio have all the authority of the original prosecutor in the case. That means they can dismiss charges, amend charges or bring new charges when they believe such actions are necessary. Ultimately, prosecutors, not police, make charging decisions," said Davison.
Marianne Hammeter and Brian Deckert have been assigned as the special prosecutors in the case. It was announced last week that Deckert had replaced Jennifer Brumby on the prosecution team. Brumby has left the attorney general's office to take a job in the private sector, a spokeswoman explained.
"Nothing in Ohio's criminal statutes makes it a crime for someone to ridicule a rape victim on a video or otherwise say horrible things about another person. Further, nothing in the law allows someone who says repugnant things on Twitter, Facebook or other Internet sites to be criminally charged for such statements. Steubenville Police investigators are caring humans who recoil and are repulsed by many of the things they observe during an investigation. Like detectives in every part of America and the world, they are often frustrated when they emotionally want to hold people accountable for certain detestable behavior but realize that there is no statute that allows a criminal charge to be made," Davison commented.
The press conference was attended by several city council members and Mayor Domenick Mucci.