May 3, 2019
Ron O’Brien, Esq. Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney
Re: Request to End the Unjust Prosecution of Masonique Saunders
Dear Prosecuting Attorney O’Brien:
We, the undersigned, write to express our support for Masonique Saunders and our opposition to your office’s decision to file felony murder charges against her.
Columbus Police claim that Masonique was present during an undercover sting operation at which Officer Eric Richards shot and killed sixteen-year-old Julius Ervin Tate Jr. during an alleged robbery. There is an ongoing dispute and investigation regarding whether Julius brandished a firearm at the scene before being shot five times by Officer Richards. What is not in dispute is that Masonique did not commit murder; utilizing the legal fiction of felony murder is a transparent attempt to distract from the actions of Officer Richards in Julius’s death.
Masonique is now seventeen-years-old, an age at which charging her with aggravated robbery and felony murder requires mandatory bindover to adult court under Ohio’s law. Charging Masonique with felony murder and prosecuting her in adult court would create further harm to a community that has already experienced a tragedy with Julius’s death. Research, data, and experience suggest that there are better ways to heal the community while also promoting public safety.
Youth do not belong in the adult criminal justice system. Children in the adult system are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse, 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers held in juvenile facilities, and are more likely to be exposed to prolonged periods of solitary confinement, an experience the United Nations has found is akin to torture. Not only is the experience harmful for youth, but also harmful to public safety. Youth prosecuted in the adult system are at least 34% more likely to recidivate than their peers in the juvenile justice system. Adult prosecution of Masonique serves no public purpose. 3
In this case, Masonique’s alleged actions do not suggest that she is a threat to public safety, and in fact, placing her in the adult system presents a greater risk than it mitigates. Given that Masonique did not shoot Julius Tate Jr., we believe that her court-involvement will not ultimately further public safety. Furthermore, the police actions surrounding the killing of Julius Tate Jr’s and Masonique’s subsequent arrest are deeply concerning and require immediate redress.
We join the Coalition to #FreeMasonique in requesting the following:
- The immediate release of Masonique Saunders. 2. Dropping the charges against Masonique. 3. Charge Officer Eric Richards with the murder of Julius Tate Jr. 4. Instigate an independent investigation of the murder of Julius Tate Jr. 5. Release the documents in the records release request filed by the Tate family.
Jeree Thomas, Policy Director Campaign for Youth Justice
Jason Szanyi, Deputy Director Center for Children’s Law & Policy
Gina Womack, Executive Director Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Grace Bauer, Executive Director Justice for Families
Cayla Burton, Policy Director Juvenile Justice Coalition, OH
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2007) Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System: Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5609a1.htm.
Riya Shah, Managing Director Juvenile Law Center
Michael Friedman, Executive Director Legal Rights Center, MN
Rachel Gassert, Policy Director Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights
Sarah Bryer, Executive Director National Juvenile Justice Network
Kathy Wright, Executive Director New Jersey Parents’ Caucus
Valerie Slater, Executive Director RISE for Youth
1 Arya, N. (2018). Getting to Zero: A 50-State Study of Strategies to Remove Youth from Adult Jails. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA School of Law (2018). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LLSF8uBlrcqDaFW3ZKo_k3xpk_DTmItV/view 2 U.N. Secretary General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ¶ 77, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011), Retrieved from http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/ SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf.
About the Campaign for Youth Justice:
The Campaign for Youth Justice, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.