Appeals court will hear arguments over Bruzzese shooting video

STEUBENVILLE — The 7th District Court of Appeals in Youngstown today was scheduled to hear arguments about whether security tapes should be released to The Associated Press that show Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. being shot in August 2017 as he walking toward the courthouse.

AP reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins on the day of the shooting sent an e-mail to county Prosecutor Jane Hanlin requesting a copy of the video that shows Nathaniel Richmond, 51, of Steubenville waiting for Bruzzese to arrive at the courthouse and then firing shots, which hit the judge. Richmond was fatally shot by Bruzzese and a court probation officer who also was arriving at the courthouse during the morning of Aug. 21, 2017. Bruzzese recovered from the shooting and was back on the bench two months later.

The AP reporter was asking Hanlin about a motive for the shooting and whether it had anything to do with Richmond’s son, who was convicted in the Steubenville rape case more than two years prior to the shooting.

Nathaniel Richmond had a pending civil lawsuit before Bruzzese at the time of the shooting. Richmond filed a wrongful death lawsuit in April on behalf of his mother, Mae Etta Richmond, who was killed in a fire on Wellesley Avenue on April 27, 2015. Bruzzese was not the judge in the case involving Richmond’s son.

The day after the request from Welsh-Huggins, Hanlin sent him an e-mail citing five different reasons why, under state law or established court cases, mainly exceptions to public records laws, she would not release the video. Months later after further requests by the reporter, Hanlin said in an e-mail, “There are areas aside from the criminal behavior of Mr. Richmond that are still to be reviewed and investigated.”

Welsh-Huggins argued the release of the video is of “great public interest.”

AP attorneys got involved and countered arguments by Hanlin concerning the release of the video.

“We think there is a significant public interest to be served in allowing the public to view the video and verify this sequence of events, rather than being forced to rely upon law enforcement’s version,” said Brian Barrett, AP’s assistant general counsel in New York City. “Given that law enforcement has openly described the content of the video, it is difficult to discern what risk exists with allowing the public to see it for themselves.”

Barrett, in a December 2017 e-mail to Hanlin, argued against the prosecutor’s decision to withhold the release of the video.

Welsh-Huggins filed a proceeding with the Ohio Court of Claims in May 2018. The court in February decided in favor of the reporter and ordered the prosecutor to allow him to review the security tapes that show Bruzzese being shot.

Hanlin then filed an appeal with the 7th District Court of Appeals.