News: Boys Will Be Boys

Juvenile court keeps riot suspect where he belongs

Jul 19, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Hamilton County Juvenile Court is retaining jurisdiction over one of the most notorious cases resulting from the April race riots in Over-the-Rhine.

At a bind-over hearing July 9, Judge Thomas Lipps rebuffed prosecutors' attempts to try Antonio Montgomery, 15, as an adult. Charged with three counts of aggravated robbery, three counts of aggravated rioting and one count of ethnic intimidation — a total of seven felonies, but none higher than a second-degree felony — Montgomery has attracted considerable attention, because much of the alleged offense was caught on videotape.

Police say Montgomery is one of several African-American rioters who pulled a white man from a truck in Over-the-Rhine and beat him. Montgomery is also accused of tipping over a hot dog cart.

Ruling Montgomery will be tried as a juvenile, Lipps cited the boy's age, prior record and the seriousness of the charges.

Lipps said the defendant, at age 15, is relatively young, and although Ohio law sets 14 as the minimum age at which a juvenile can be tried as an adult, it is not mandatory.

A child, not a message
Prior to the riot, Montgomery had no criminal record, another factor Lipps considered. At the hearing, the 15-year-old's mother told Lipps her son "did more good in his life than bad." She asked Lipps not to give up on the youth.

"He's not a throwaway," she said.

The boy's mother also called him "lovable," drawing a quick rejoinder from the judge.

"He didn't look very lovable on those tapes," Lipps said.

Also speaking on the boy's behalf was Rev. Al Mosley of the Revival Temple and Lord's Gym, where Montgomery is employed. Mosley spoke in support of keeping the youth in juvenile court.

"There's too many positive things, too many good things," Mosley said.

Mosley described Montgomery doing "godly" things, "laying on the floor crying and thanking Jesus for saving his life."

Lipps again pointed to the tapes, saying the alleged offenses were not godly behavior at all. Mosley said he hadn't seen the tapes, but knows the defendant well.

"I know what ever he has been accused of is not habitual," Mosley said.

The boy's mentor, a nurse who declined to give her name to reporters, also spoke of his good character. She spoke fondly of the two years she has known Montgomery.

"I've shared my world with him as he shared his world with me," the woman said.

Assistant Prosecutor Robert Dietzch said the defendant was the ideal rioter — that is, taking part in every aspect of rioting.

"He is capable of making the right decision," Dietzch said. "He chose to (take part)."

Dietzch argued Montgomery should be tried as an adult.

Defense attorney Tom White disagreed. Because Montgomery had no prior criminal record, White argued, he has never been given the first chance that repeat offenders get. If Montgomery needs rehabilitation, White said, juvenile court can do it.

Although Lipps agreed, ruling the case belongs in juvenile court, he warned Montgomery that, if he is convicted, he would not be going home.

While age and record were factors in the ruling, something else was at play: Lipps refused to let Montgomery be made into a message for law-and-order advocates.

"It's a question of whether or not all of that (civil unrest) will be laid on the feet of the defendant," Lipps said.

The goal of sending a message clearly played a part in Dietzch's motivation in seeking to try Montgomery as an adult. Dietzch talked about a police officer who hesitated when firing a weapon, not wanting to start another riot. By seeking to make Montgomery face a possible prison sentence as an adult, Dietzch hoped to send a message that rioting will not be tolerated.

Antonio Montgomery will not be the vehicle for that message. He will face trial, but with the acknowledgment that he is still a kid — a 15-year-old boy who has never been in trouble with the law, who goes to school, church and work, and who wants to someday go to college.

If found guilty of any of the offenses in juvenile court, Montgomery could face up to five years in detention. ©