‘Hood Justice’ in Ohio

Seventeen-year-old Ethan Liming was driving around with his friends smoking marijuana one evening in Akron, Ohio, when they decided to prank people by shooting them with a water bead blaster. The “gun” fires soft gel balls from a bright orange barrel, making it hard to mistake the toy for a real firearm.

They pulled into a parking lot of the I Promise School for at-risk children and began shooting at a crowd of people on a basketball court. The players charged them, leading to a scuffle between the two groups in which Liming, a white juvenile, found himself in a three-on-one fight with two brothers and their cousin, all adult black men. It ended with Liming beaten to death.

Although they were initially arrested on homicide charges, the two brothers, Deshawn and Tyler Stafford, have managed to evade even a manslaughter conviction, walking away with lesser counts of assault. Their cousin, Donovon Jones, was also convicted of two misdemeanor counts of assault.  

The case sparked outrage in some corners because it seems obvious that if Liming had been black and his attackers white, the outcome likely would have triggered rioting. There would be endless declamations against the racism that has infected society at every level. How could they not be charged with at least manslaughter? Placards would read “Justice for Liming,” an honors student with a 4.03 GPA who played baseball and football and aspired to be a lawyer.

Yet Liming’s case is worse than a cursory view makes it seem, and it already looks bad. According to court documents, when Liming and his friends retreated to the car, Jones began kicking the vehicle, trying to get in, and then attempting to drag the passengers out, pummeling them the whole time. An arrest affidavit acquired by Outkick states Tyler Stafford “beat Liming until he was unconscious, and then beat him more while he was unconscious on the ground. Stafford stomped and kicked Liming in the head multiple times, resulting in his death on scene.” 

The affidavit also states that when Liming’s friends “attempted to come to Liming’s aid by taking him to the hospital, Stafford took Liming’s car and drove it to the other end of the lot.” Stafford’s attorney, Jonathan Sinn, conceded that while his client took the car, it was only to prevent Liming and company from fleeing the scene with the police on their way. But Stafford and the other suspects reportedly fled after driving the car across the lot, which makes that argument seem strange. 

If they knew they were in the right, why did they run?

At any rate, Forensic Pathologist Dr. Robert Schott testified that Liming hit the ground with such force that he would have died even if paramedics had been on scene to provide assistance within minutes. Schott ruled it a homicide because it was “death that results from the willful act of someone else with knowledge that it could be causing injury or death.” He also noted various injuries to Liming’s face and chest. Liming’s friends said the Staffords continued to beat Liming after he fell and stopped moving, but Schott said it was the impact to the back of the head from hitting the ground that was fatal.

The Stafford brothers and Jones initially were arrested on murder charges. A judge set the bonds at $1 million each. But a Summit County grand jury indicted the trio on lesser charges in July 2022. Jones pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault charges, received a suspended sentence, and was credited with time served. 

That was when Bill Liming, the father of Ethan Liming, broke his silence. He had finally had enough.

“I naively believed that once the people who murdered my son were caught that the justice system would simply handle things. We’ve said all along we were confident when the facts of the case were presented that Ethan would receive justice,” Liming told News 5 Cleveland

But there would be no justice for his son.

“The people who have the power to stand up for my son are not doing it, so it’s up to me as a father to speak for my son who cannot speak for himself,” Liming said. 

Worse still, Liming got messages from people gloating over his son’s death. They also mocked him for being white. 

“We’ve received emails celebrating the fact that my son’s head was crushed like a watermelon and laughing how his chest was stomped, and I’ve been called a white moron,” he said.

Police insisted race did not play a factor in any of this. Liming was with one white and two black friends on the night of the incident. But Bill Liming isn’t so sure. Perhaps it didn’t have a role in the killing, but what about the case? The senior Liming recalled an exchange with Brian LoPrinzi, Chief Criminal Division with the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, that he believed confirmed his suspicions.

“I would like to believe race doesn’t play a role in this. I’m married to a Filipino woman. She’s got Black cousins. When we get together for extended family gatherings for birthdays, graduation parties for holidays, we’re a beautiful picture of what we hope to be a society,” he told News 5 Cleveland. “But when I asked Brian LoPrinzi in the initial prosecutor’s meeting I had with him, I asked him if race made a difference, if my son’s skin color made a difference in the way in which they are approaching it, and he said yes.”

LoPrinzi denied the conversation occurred the way Liming described it. But Liming claimed a source had given him more information.

“A source who was at the initial prosecutor’s meeting between the detectives and the prosecutors describe [sic] the prosecutor’s meeting as being very contentious,” Liming told News 5 Cleveland. “Some of the prosecutors wanting felonious assault charges and murder charges, others basically wanted no charges at all, with one of the prosecutors saying that Ethan received ‘hood justice,’ which was a new term to me. I was unfamiliar with the terminology ‘hood justice,’ I guess implying Ethan got what he deserved.”

It seems people increasingly are resigning themselves to the reality that race plays a factor in the administration of justice, just not in the way most Americans have been led to believe. Liming and his friends should not have been driving around while high. But a father should not have to bury a son and then worry about whether justice will be upheld in prosecuting his death because of his race.

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