UPDATED: Jefferson County Officials Name Nathaniel Richmond as Man Killed in Ambush on Judge Joseph Bruzzese
Common Pleas Judge Bruzzese Shot Outside Jefferson County Courthouse
STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese and city resident Nathaniel Richmond exchanged gunfire on the streets of downtown Steubenville early this morning in a incident that left the judge in surgery and Richmond dead.
Jefferson County officials this afternoon named Richmond as the man who allegedly attempted to ambush Bruzzese as he got out of his car this morning and headed into work. He is the father of Ma’lik Richmond, the former Steubenville High School student convicted in the 2012 rape of a teenage girl.
Sheriff Fred Abdalla said authorities are still trying to establish a motive. Bruzzese did not handle any of the legal proceedings against Ma’lik Richmond.
Richmond exchanged gunfire with Bruzzese near the Court Street entrance to the courthouse, Abdalla said, and was shot and killed by a common pleas court probation officer who was walking in Dollar Alley between buildings from Fourth Street to Court Street when the shooter turned on him.
“Whoever thought this could happen here,” Abdalla said. He noted local authorities are familiar with the suspect.
He said the shooter and Bruzzese appeared to have exchanged about five shots each, according to courthouse video.
He said officers are checking court records to see what involvement the suspect had with Bruzzese.
Abdalla said he is aware of threats being made in retaliation for killing of the shooting suspect.
“Police in the region have been notified,” he said. “I hope nothing like that happens. If it does, we are prepared to handle it.”
The courthouse is closed today while the investigation continues, and will remain closed tomorrow. Investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation are working outside the courthouse this afternoon. An official update on the investigation is expected this afternoon.
UPMC’s media relations department said despite calls from area reporters, it cannot comment because it is blocked from information because the situation involves a violent crime.
A man who was in the car with the shooter was grazed by a bullet and was taken to Trinity Medical Center West. He told law enforcement interviewers he had been unaware of what was happening. Abdalla said that man and the shooting suspect had been drinking last night when the suspect said he had to be in court early today.
Courthouse video shows the vehicle involved in the shooting parked in the Huntington Bank parking lot across Court Street from the courthouse at 7:12 a.m. The video shows the vehicle leave and then return. Authorities are working to enhance the courthouse video as part of the investigation.
Abdalla became emotional and said, “The judge was shot in front of the courthouse and it effects me. It is an attempted murder on a judge.”
Later today, he said, “Every judge should be armed today in America. Prosecutors need to be armed. It was a cold-blooded attempted murder on a judge.”
Abdalla noted Bruzzese is an avid sportsman and hunter, which helped fight off the attack.
“If any judge could do it, it is him,” he commented. “There are so many nuts running around seeking retaliation.”
Abdalla said, the quick action of the probation officer made the difference.
“If the probation officer was not there, the shooter would have kept shooting until the judge was dead,” Abdalla said.
Steubenville City Manager Jim Mavromatis said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, City Police and Ohio State Highway Patrol have done “an excellent job” securing the crime scene and are now working with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look for shell casings and any evidence.
Mavromatis said the suspect apparently backed into another car in an attempt to escape.
Bruzzese apparently was walking from Fourth Street to a narrow alley toward the courthouse when he was “ambushed,” Mavromatis said.
The local legal community has been shaken by the shooting.
Attorney Eric Reszke commented, “It was an assassination attempt like something you’d see in South America. They crossed the line on this. Attorneys, judges and police officers never were targets in this manner. That has changed today.
“Nobody should have to wake up and see this. The courthouse is one place where arguments are supposed to be settled, with violence never being involved,” he continued. “That has changed forever.”
Bruzzese has been an attorney since 1976, when he graduated from Ohio Northern University. He was the county court judge at Wintersville for many years before being elected to replace longtime common pleas judge Domenick Olivito in 1995. Bruzzese won re-election to his latest term in 2014.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the Steubenville Police Department requested the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the shooting. BCI has assigned its special investigations, crime scene and cyber units to the investigation, DeWine said.
“Fran and I are praying for Judge Bruzzese and his family at this difficult time,” DeWine said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, said, “I was very saddened and alarmed to hear that Judge Bruzzese was ambushed and shot outside the Jefferson County Courthouse earlier this morning. I’ve worked with him on issues surrounding the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority, and I know he is committed to the people he serves.
“From the shootings at the congressional baseball practice, to today’s tragic shooting, public officials are increasingly under assault. Public service shouldn’t be a dangerous occupation, but it all too often is. I’ll be praying for Judge Bruzzese’s recovery.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said, “Connie and I are thinking of Judge Bruzzese and his family and we pray for his recovery. I join all Ohioans in expressing my gratitude for local law enforcement who responded. My office will support local authorities and the state as they investigate this senseless act.”
Lieutenant Gov. Mary Taylor said in tweet, “My prayers are with Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzese and his family. Thankful for the quick actions by Steubenville law enforcement.”