Friday Reads: Why Media Must Examine Record of Cleveland Police Dept. in Violence Against Women Cases

People gather to remember Michelle Knight and release balloons in her honor in a field on Scranton Ave. at Mentor St. on Thurs, May 8, 2013. (Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)

People gather to remember Michelle Knight and release balloons in her honor in a field on Scranton Ave. at Mentor St. on Thurs, May 8, 2013. (Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)

Good Morning!!

Yesterday I read something that infuriated me. I usually admire Amanda Marcotte’s writing on women’s issues, but I have real problems with her take on the neighbors of Ariel Castro who claim they called 911 over the years to report suspicious activity at his house on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland. Marcotte can’t believe that the Cleveland police would ignore such reports especially “considering Castro’s frightening history of domestic violence and child abuse.” She even provides links in the opening paragraph to a post at Slate in which she suggests that Castro’s neighbors must be “creating false memories”

As more details emerge from the bizarre kidnapping case in Cleveland, people are beginning to wonder how Ariel Castro could have kept women locked up in his house for a decade without anyone actually noticing that something strange was going on. Enter the neighbors,some of whom are telling the press that they did, in fact, see all sorts of weird behavior—and that they called the police, who did nothing about it. The police, however, are denying these reports, saying that the two visits made to the house in the decade were unrelated to any suspicious activities. Considering Castro’s frightening history of domestic violence and child abuse, it’s hard to imagine the police would just ignore it if the neighbors kept complaining about him doing things like dragging naked women around on leashes in his yard.

So what’s going on? Are all these people lying? Are the cops? Or is this a case of lost records or unrecorded police calls? One possible explanation is that the neighbors are simply caught up in the excitement over a national story unfolding in their backyard, and they’re misremembering their pasts because of it. False memories, particularly regarding incredibly emotional situations, are easier to develop than many realize.

This makes no sense to Marcotte, so she dredges up Elizabeth Loftus’ research on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and the human ability to create “false memories.” For Amanda Marcotte, who seems to really care about the treatment of women who have been raped and otherwise abused, to excuse the Cleveland PD on this basis is a terrible mistake, in my opinion. Doesn’t she realize that Loftus is an expert witness who testifies almost exclusively for defendants accused of sexual abuse and assault? Couldn’t Marcotte at least look at the history of the Cleveland PD before dismissing accusations against them?

But no, she assumes that surely the Cleveland police department did the best they could, so any neighbor who worried about something being wrong at Castro’s house with it’s high fences, boarded up and trash-bag-covered windows must be “inadvertently” making up past concerns in order to alleviate their guilt or make themselves seem more important. I won’t go into a long essay on the problems with applying Loftus’ research in this case; I’ll just agree that anything is possible. But we need to ask ourselves: what is the most likely explanation in this particular case?

In another post at Slate, Justin Peters “explains” why he thinks the Cleveland PD “did everything they could and it still wasn’t enough.”

Amanda Berry with her arms around her sister and daughter after her escape

Amanda Berry with her arms around her sister and daughter after her escape

No. No, they didn’t. Let’s keep in mind that the Cleveland PD didn’t in fact find Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus. What happened is that

Berry noticed the front door of the home was unlocked but the outer storm door remained bolted. She was reluctant to attempt an escape because Castro was known to test the women by leaving doors in the house unlocked. He would beat them if they attempted to leave the unlocked rooms, police sources said. Berry made the decision to try to break through the storm door after seeing people on a neighbor’s porch. She gained the attention of neighbors such as Charles Ramsey, and they helped her and her 6-year-old child get out. She called 9-1-1 from a nearby home. [Ramsey was aided by another neighbor Angel Cordero, who wasn’t as good an interview as Ramsey]

When Berry called 911, she got an operator who tried his best to blow her off by saying

Dispatcher: We’re going to send them as soon as we get a car open.

It took Berry’s continued urging to get him to act immediately. Even Charles Ramsey said in his interview with Anderson Cooper, “Bro, this is Cleveland,” seemingly calling attention to the fact that in Cleveland missing women don’t get found in neighborhoods like his. This is a fact that all of Cleveland is aware of, which is why there is a lot of anger toward police in the city right now.

This is a morning reads post, so I’m not going to rant on and on about this. Instead I’ll give you some links to articles that support what I’m saying. But first let me ask a rhetorical question for Slate and Amanda Marcotte: Were the women who claimed they were attacked by now convicted Cleveland serial rapist and murderer Anthony Sowell “creating false memories” when they call 911 and were ignored? Were the neighbors who reported the smell of rotting corpses emanating from Sowell’s house and yard “creating false memories?” What about the thousands of rape kits that Cleveland PD never had tested? Why is the Cleveland Police Department currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department?

Violence against women is huge problem in this country, and the Cleveland PD is not alone in treating it as a lower priority than other crimes. IMHO, it’s very important not to forget that. Not ever.

Now I’ll end my rant and give you some links to click on. I know this is a distasteful subject, a painful subject, and I understand why no one really wants to read all the gory details. But sometimes gory details are necessary to wake people up to the reality of what happens to women in this country every fucking day–especially poor women, drug-addicted women, sex workers, and others whom society sometimes sees as “disposable.”

I’ll begin with a video from Democracy Now–an interview with Cleveland reporter Eric Sandy.

Here is Sandy’s article, The Long History of Ariel Castro, Cleveland Kidnapper and Monster. Please note that Castro did come in contact with law enforcement over the years because of his horrific abuse of his wife and children. None of his violent behavior was really taken seriously or adequately dealt with. I apologize for this long excerpt:

Once again, Tomba’s words at the Tuesday morning press conference hang in the air: “Every single lead was followed up no matter how small,” he said. Unavoidable thoughts hearkening back to Anthony Sowell’s 2011 serial murder convictions hang in the air, as well. The rescue at the Seymour Avenue house will bear out a legacy on the backs of all involved, much like Cleveland’s other high-profile crimes.

Stories revolving around Castro’s work as a bus driver and his interactions with family members fill out characteristics about the man – elements of his personality that may have led to both the kidnapping and to his evasion from law enforcement.

In 1993 and 2005, Castro was accused of domestic violence from his one-time wife. The former charges were reduced to mere disorderly conduct, while the latter incident offered grisly imagery of a fractured marriage still capable of wreaking havoc. Castro broke his ex-wife’s nose and ribs, dislocated her shoulders, knocked out one of her teeth and battered her so hard that a blood clot formed on her brain, according to filings in court. In an interview with investigators after the fact, Castro denied ever being abusive toward her.

That filing effectively killed Castro’s chances at even partial custody of his children. Nevertheless, as sources familiar with the man report, his penchant for manipulation pulled Emily and Arlene back into his gravitational pull at times.

Several years after the gross sexual imposition conviction of Colon blew over, Emily Castro gave birth to a girl. It’s unclear who the father was – though speculation points to either a former boyfriend who now lives in Cleveland or, according to the private investigator, something much more untoward, evil, and incestuous.

Emily was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she attempted to murder her 11-month-old daughter by slashing her throat four times in 2007. She was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“It is certainly a mystery as to how this happened or why this happened,” Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck told The Journal Gazette at the time.

It is indeed a mystery that may yet hold more clues as to who Ariel Castro has been all these years. Any answers that lay within may illuminate a gap in local law enforcement’s own investigations.

Gina DeJesus

Gina DeJesus

More articles to ponder:

Alternet: Why Cops Bust Down Doors of Medical Pot Growers, But Ignore Men Who Keep Naked Girls on Leashes

Daily Mail: Son of ‘abductor’ reveals how father padlocked doors to basement, attic and garage because ‘we weren’t allowed to go there’

Note the padlocked door in the background of the photos, which were taken in 2001–before the abductions of Knight, Berry, and DeJesus took place. Who or what was in those locked rooms at that time?

Daily Telegraph: ‘Ariel Castro locked my sister in a box and beat her’

CNN on the similarities with the Anthony Sowell case: Cleveland abductions a chilling reminder of ‘House of Horrors’

19 Action News: “Note of admission” written by Ariel Castro in 2004 Police Report

Joan Walsh on the media sliming of Charles Ramsey: Charles Ramsey is still a hero

Plain Dealer: FBI previously investigated stepfather of Ariel Castro’s children in DeJesus and Berry cases.

Note that the stepfather tried to get police and FBI to investigate Ariel Castro in the disappearances. They ignored his pleas, and Castro was used as a source against the stepfather and allowed to testify against him–even with his history of domestic abuse!  Did you know that Castro repeatedly abducted his own daughters?

The Daily Beast: My Neighbor the Monster

Doug Parker owns the home next to Cleveland suspect Ariel Castro. In his first interview, he recalls 20 years of confrontations, a bitter court case, and more red flags….

Parker says the police have been to the house more than they claim. For one, he says, he called the police in May 1996 when Castro pulled fence posts out of the ground and rolled up a chain link fence that ran between the two properties.

“He did it while I was at work, so I couldn’t stop him,” Parker says.The posts had been buried 18 inches, leaving holes that DeaAna, 6 years old at the time, tripped over while playing and injured herself. “The cops came, we talked, and one of them suggested I go to court on this,” Parker says. “And that’s what I did.”He was awarded $900 in damages and Castro was ordered to put the fence back up.

I guess those court records must have gone missing…

The Daily Beast: Cleveland Kidnapping, Anthony Sowell Case Linked by Indifferent Police

If you are stunned that three Cleveland women could be held captive for a decadewithout being discovered, then you are unacquainted with the case of Anthony Sowell, also known as the Cleveland Strangler.

Sowell was a registered sex offender who remained at liberty despite a series of sexual-assault complaints against him, until the police finally acted and discovered the bodies of 11 murdered women in his house and backyard.

At least some of those murders and rapes could have been prevented if the police had not reacted so indifferently when a distraught woman called them in September 2008, after being repeatedly raped, beaten, and choked by Sowell. She had at one point sought refuge in a bathroom, where she saw a headless body wrapped in plastic and positioned in a sitting position in the bathtub.

After managing to get away, the woman had stumbled as far as a bus stop before she could go no further. She would later testify: “I couldn’t walk no more. I was tore up. My body was tore up … My face, my female parts, my butt.”

She called the police. “They told me I had to come in and make a report,” she would testify. She further testified that she asked the dispatcher, “How do I get there?” The dispatcher told her: “Come in and make a report. We can’t take a report over the phone.”

She told the court that after the call, “I felt less than human. I didn’t know who to turn to.”

Michelle Knight before her disappearance

Michelle Knight before her disappearance

Plain Dealer: Michelle Knight, held captive since 2002, removed by Cleveland police from FBI database 15 months after disappearance

Cleveland police removed Michelle Knight’s missing person entry from an FBI database 15 months after she was reported missing in 2002 — and nearly a decade before she was rescued from her captor’s home on Cleveland’s West Side.

City spokeswoman Maureen Harper said Thursday that police followed proper procedures by removing Knight’s name from the database in November 2003 because they were unable to contact Knight’s mother by telephone to verify that her then-22-year-old daughter still was missing.

However, the police department’s written policy on investigating missing adults, at the time of Knight’s disappearance on Aug. 23, 2002, describes a different verification process. It states that an officer must go and see that a missing person has been found, then inform the FBI within two hours for removal from the National Crime Information Center database.

Kym Pasqualini, a national advocate for missing adults, said in an interview Thursday that the removal of Knight’s name and description from the database helped the case fall through the cracks.

NY Daily News: Cleveland captive Michelle Knight was gang-raped while in junior high.

She got pregnant from the rape and that victimization probably set her up to be revictimized when she learned her son was to be taken away from her. Sadly, she left home angry and upset and Ariel Castro offered her a ride.

NY Daily News: Michelle Knight’s twin brother talks about their history and his happy reunion with her.

This one is heartbreaking but speaks beautifully to me about human nature and our need for connection.

I guess this is enough for now. I’ll provide other links in the comment thread. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.

As always, this is an open thread and you are welcome post links on any topic in the comments.

Again, I understand this is a painful and distasteful subject. But please be aware that violence against women is truly endemic in the U.S. and it still isn’t treated with the necessary seriousness by law enforcement, the courts, or the media.

43 Comments on “Friday Reads: Why Media Must Examine Record of Cleveland Police Dept. in Violence Against Women Cases”

  1. RalphB says:

    I think we agree, the Cleveland PD should be examined with a microscope in this case, or maybe a proctoscope. My media issue is them bugging the women themselves. They can request interviews etc, but should leave them in peace for awhile. They are going to have a hard enough time without any further pushing and pulling on them.

    • bostonboomer says:

      We do agree. However, speaking publicly about their ordeal may eventually be part of their recovery, as it has been for other survivors like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard.

      In one of the articles I posted (I think), both Smart and Dugard explain why it is important for the public to notice odd behavior and report it. Each of them were out in public and were not noticed.

      Elizabeth Smart even sat with her captors in a pubic library as they were interrogated by a police office–who did not recognize her! She was either afraid or ashamed to speak up.

      • Fannie says:

        Thank you again BB….their is a huge gap or a better yet a disconnect. Not only from woman who is abused, and the abuser but family members, community, and the criminal justice system. There are alot of reasons for that including geographics, and visualization, and communications. Castor’s children for example were told not to go to certain area of home, right there was a red flag, to do something, say something, but they turned their heads. Even when people see abuse such as in the Kitty Genovese case, or the young girl who was ganged raped at HS, from Richmond, Ca……….everybody watched and did nothing to stop it.

        Here we are in the 21st century, and we might as well be back in 1880’s…………It seems like we have not made progress, and have not improved our culture at all, we are now more violent and accepting of it than ever before. Rape is torture, and that has been acknowledged globally. Modern technology (rape kits, etc), need to be completed and incorporated in the systems that deal with violence, and that ,includes the health care centers,college campuses, and other professionals who contribute to healthy outcomes. We can’t keep on slapping the wrist and set them free, or leaving her own to deal with it by herself. The courts aren’t helping in the overall solutions. The communities have got to understand their role in stopping the violence.

        Abuse happens across all economic lines and rape & violence happens because they are girls and women, but the poor woman who doesn’t have resources is the one that needs increased help. I don’t like to lump all women together, because violence also happens with boys and men, just saying that the effects are somewhat different.

        Violence Awareness needs to be talked about, we cannot continue the silence. And until people are ready to make those changes, including the justice system, we might as well be living in the Wild West.

  2. dm says:

    Wasn’t it the Dugar case where parole officers actually came to the house on more than 1 occasion as well as a neighbor reporting seeing her and the kids in the yard and thinking back yard set up was strange? The authorities never checked the backyard and I think on one occasion she was actually in the house at the time of the “visit”.

    I know the system is overwhelmed…so many perverts, so little time…but when the authorities actually receive more than 1 call on a residence, it would seem a simple drive by or a casual walk around the property might have provided some validation to the calls.

    It is a sad situation on so many levels.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Today is a happy anniversary for me. I got sober 31 years ago, on May 10, 1982, and I never turned back.

    I hope today will be a good day for all Sky Dancers!

  4. Delphyne says:

    This is a really terrific post, BB – and an important one. This sentence alone says it all:

    But sometimes gory details are necessary to wake people up to the reality of what happens to women in this country every fucking day–especially poor women, drug-addicted women, sex workers, and others whom society sometimes sees as “disposable.”

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks. I was afraid no one would read this screed. I tend to get worked up about violence against women, probably because of my own history.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Amazing news!

    Woman Rescued in Bangladesh Rubble 17 Days After Building Collapse

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Tests confirm Ariel Castro is father of Amanda Berry’s daughter.

    • NW Luna says:

      At least now the girl can now grow up free and clean of her biological father’s influence, and in the loving care of her enduring, strong, and lucky mother.

  7. RalphB says:

    This is a really wonderful post, highlighting one of this countrys most serious problems. Perhaps our most serious problem because, if we fix this one, a lot of the others would disappear.

  8. Note that the stepfather tried to get police and FBI to investigate Ariel Castro in the disappearances. They ignored his pleas, and Castro was used as a source against the stepfather and allowed to testify against him–even with his history of domestic abuse! Did you know that Castro repeatedly abducted his own daughters?

    Well, this fucking answers my question from late last night…why the hell wasn’t he questioned when Gina DeJesus went missing. It is Disgusting.

    Great post BB, now I go finish it.

  9. littleisis says:

    high fences, boarded up windows and trash bags are not an unusual sight on Lorain ave but yes, you’re right. How anyone can defend the CPD at this point is beyond me. They don’t live in this city. It’s not a law and order:svu episode here, it’s more like Hannibal.

  10. Pilgrim says:

    Another well-researched, well-written reflection.

  11. bostonboomer says:

    This Alternet piece by a woman who was abducted as a child discusses what it takes to survive, how she escaped, and how it changed her. She was 7.

  12. NW Luna says:

    More evidence of the same ugly pattern across the country:

    Ex-student sues Tacoma schools over restroom sex

    A former student suing the Tacoma School District says school officials failed to protect her from a boy who raped her last year in a restroom at Mount Tahoma High School. ….

    The district takes allegations of student misconduct seriously, said Shannon McMinimee, attorney for Tacoma Public Schools.

    Police investigated the March 2012 incident but were unable to determine whether the sexual contact was consensual or not. The girl said she didn’t want to press charges; she only wanted a court order to keep him away. The boy was later suspended. Both were special education students with disabilities, according to documents.

    Note the newspaper headline has restroom “sex” and only later, in the article copy, has the word “rape.”

  13. NW Luna says:

    Industry barons and their ilk have been pushing for multiple coal-carrying trains to start running to the Bellingham [WA] port to ship coal to China. Yeah, not a popular idea here — or anywhere, I’d think — but jobs! jobs! say lobbyists and industry.

    Atmospheric Chemistry Professor Dan Jaffe [at the Univ of Washington, Seattle] is ready to begin a study on air pollution from trains, especially freight and coal trains, in the Puget Sound region. Several state and local agencies told him that this work needs to be done, but that it is too politically hot for them to fund. [at bottom of link]

    UW chemist’s coal project gets crowdfunded — in record time

    Atmospheric chemist Dan Jaffe’s proposal to monitor the trains reached its $18,000 “crowdfunding” goal Thursday, one day after a Seattle Times column about him and only a week after he first put up a request at science fundraising site Microryza. ….

    As of Thursday afternoon, more than 230 people had donated an average of $77 each to Jaffe’s project, which is titled “Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?”

    Jaffe said he was bowled over by the people power. “I was going to give up and not do this research,” he said, referring to how he had difficulty getting funding for it through typical channels. “It’s a brave new world.” Jaffe plans to set up air monitors along the tracks, possibly north of Seattle, starting in July. The goal is to see if trains affect air quality, to help inform how building a new coal terminal might affect people up and down the tracks.

    Cool! Although sad to see that a mere $18,000 couldn’t be managed for research through the usual channels.

  14. NW Luna says:


    IRS apologizes for targeting conservative groups

    The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday.

    • RalphB says:

      Oh jeez, here comes the massive hyper-outrage!

    • I know, this is the kind of shit that makes me cringe…

      This is exactly the kind of thing that gives conspiracy theorists fodder for their conspiracies and makes all of us mistrust the institution of government as a whole…
      IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political views.

      “There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.

      Oh bullshit.

      And here’s the thing: they went after the little guys, the grassroots groups. I happen to think the Tea Party is a blight our politics, but I sure as hell think they have a right to engage in political activism without being singled out and harassed.

      Just like all the recent Democrats and their racist comments lately.

      Women and minorities aren’t flocking to the Republican Party, but Democrats shouldn’t get cocky. (05:30)

  15. NW Luna says:

    Time again to call, email, fax, and write to all our Congresscritters on the latest travesty. The House voted to pass the Working Stiffs Enslavement Act.

    h/t to Cannonfire

    H.R. 1406, The Working Families Flexibility Act, passed the House yesterday. In case you don’t know, this is the bill designed to end the eight-hour workday and the forty-hour work week.

    Why am I reminded of “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today” from Alice in Wonderland?

    • janey says:

      My husband has been working 10 to 12 hour days for years. And he has a job that should have 8 hour days. Also only a couple of weeks a year vacation and that major holidays. Only labor unions in some professions had a forty hour week. Rest of us are wage slaves that frequently look overtime unpaid. Has been going on for years. Mostly Bush years.

      • NW Luna says:

        Yep, and most are cowed and scared because the company bosses will fire any individual who “complains” when they point out the boss expects the work of 3 out of one employee. Add to that the expectation that employees show “team attitude” by offering up extra time gratis for the company.

        All that might have had a point back when loyalty actually was rewarded, companies came through with good pensions, and were mere babies in the art of worker exploitation.

        If we could get a majority to organize — we’d have some progress. Yes, at the costs of some of the ringleaders, and to “make an example” of what happens when the wage slaves speak up. Times are precarious. If nothing is done — thing will only get worse.

        When will we get to the flash point? The “peasants with pitchforks” moment. Note: I have 1 large and 1 small pitchfork, at the ready.