Young woman with brown rimmed glasses, long brown hair in winter clothes outside with her purse over her shoulder an holding it close to her body, looking like she is talking

I am an attorney and guardian ad litem (GAL) in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio. An important part of my job is protecting the rights of adults and minors who live in Ohio, and in my city.  Every day I strive to advocate for the best interest of children, and protect the Constitutional rights of parents and children in Ohio.  

My work is not easy and it does not pay well. I do not have benefits, and for many years I could not even get health coverage. I am not really complaining; I love my work as well as my freedom and independence. I love representing everyday people from my city. As a GAL and defense attorney I see people on the worst days of their lives and try to give them hope that things are going to get better. They often do. I visit my clients in prison, jail, mental institutions, and in their homes. My clients are babies, school aged kids, teenagers, trafficking victims, parents, adults with misdemeanor and felony cases.

I had the very unfortunate experience of witnessing the tragic death of young Joseph Haynes, 16 years old, at Juvenile Court last week. I was representing a client and we were waiting for our case to be called when the fight broke out. I was seated in the hall where the young man and his family came out of the Courtroom. A verbal altercation quickly turned physical, and within a few seconds I heard the single gunshot, and then his mother and grandmother started screaming.

Young Joey Haynes was shot in front of his whole family who were there to support him at Court, although his death will have impact beyond his immediate family. His mother and grandmother were with him, his little brother was there, and a young adolescent girl was with the family as well. The two younger kids saw what was happening and the little brother was visibly scared as the scene unfolded in front of him. There were many other people nearby who were impacted by witnessing the shooting – parents, kids, attorneys, social workers, and even babies. After we were moved down the hall, I tried to make sure my own client and his mother were going to be okay. Everyone left at Court by that time was visibly shaken at what had just taken place. The impact of this shooting will have ripple effects in the families that witnessed this, in our communities, and in the Court. It does not stop there. Our whole County, the State of Ohio, and the Nation is impacted by this death.

This case is so tragic because it involved the loss of the life of a juvenile, a child. This occurred at Juvenile Court, a place that is supposed to protect and advocate for young people. But the reality is that a child who has contact with the Juvenile justice system is more likely to have contact with the criminal system as an adult. It is all the more tragic that the Sheriff's Department will, most likely, try to blame the victim, young Joey, for his own death. Instead of taking responsibility, and admitting any wrongdoing, the usual practice is to fight the claim and blame the victim. 

When it comes to working with juveniles, it is important to take into account their maturity level; they cannot be judged by the same standards as adults because their brains are still developing. Children are more impulsive than adults, and this is something that improves with time. Children are generally more rambunctious and active than adults, but not as strong. Children are thought to have a shorter attention span than adults. Adults should be aware of these features of children and deal with them accordingly. Joey Haynes' death was preventable and should never have happened.  

As I recall what happened last week, I am reflecting on what can be done to change policing in Ohio. As an attorney, I see how cycles of violence and poverty perpetuate misery in Ohio. We must seek out ways to break the cycle.  I am calling for non-violent de-escalation training, training in non-violent communication, PTSD screening and treatment, and less lethal tools to be made available to police officers. Police officers need to be trained in techniques to ensure public safety while preventing and minimizing loss of life of both officers and the public. Police officers need to be trained in how to deal with mentally ill people, children, and veterans to de-escalate situations and prevent loss of life whenever possible. Police officers should be local to the area where they are working, not from out of county or unfamiliar with the community they are serving. In the Courthouse, where everyone is screened on the way in the door, use of deadly weapons should not be the norm. In fact, it would be a good environment for testing out the use of less lethal tools to ensure public safety.

As these cases like this continue to pile up in Columbus and around our state, I am trying to do some of the heavy lifting to make things better. As an activist attorney I have worked on the issue of police brutality, doing know your rights workshops and supporting other activists in their anti-violence work.  This shooting at my work place, where I work protecting kids and their rights, hits close to home. I want to promote non-violence, and I think that it needs to start with the state. The people need to be secure in their persons and not have their rights violated by government actors.  As governor my top priority will be protecting the lives, health and welfare of the people of the state of Ohio.

Constance Gadell-Newton is a candidate for Ohio governor, with the Green Party.



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