An Ohio judge was shot Monday morning outside his courthouse in an ambush attack that ended when the judge and a probation officer returned fire, killing the attacker, authorities said.
Police said a man apparently waiting for Judge Joseph Bruzzese, who sits on the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas, ran up to the judge and began shooting when he approached the courthouse. Bruzzese drew a gun and fired at least five rounds at the shooter, possibly hitting the attacker, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla told reporters during emotional remarks Monday morning.
“This individual laid in wait for our judge,” Abdalla said, tearing up during his remarks. “It just hurts. First thing on Monday morning, you have a judge shot in front of his courthouse . . . This was an ambush and an attempted murder on our judge.”
The shooting occurred in Steubenville, Ohio, a place best known for a high-profile rape case involving high school football players. In a bizarre twist, the shooter was identified by authorities on Monday afternoon as Nathaniel Richmond, father of one of the two teenage boys found delinquent – or guilty – in 2013 as part of that rape case.
Jane Hanlin, prosecutor for Jefferson County, identified Richmond as the shooter and said authorities do not believe there was any connection whatsoever between the shooting and Richmond’s son, Ma’lik.
Bruzzese had “nothing at all to do with that particular case,” Hanlin said during an afternoon briefing, noting that it was handled by a judge from another area.
However, Hanlin said authorities still did not know what might have motivated Monday’s shooting. She said Nathaniel Richmond did have a criminal history and was involved in a pending case, but it was unclear if that case had anything to do with the shooting.
Bruzzese was taken into surgery, authorities said, and was in stable condition, according to the local news station WTOV9.
Richmond was struck three times and killed on Monday. Since a probation officer as well as the judge fired rounds at him, Abdalla said it was not clear whether one of Bruzzese’s bullets hit Richmond, who had fired five rounds.
During remarks to reporters Monday afternoon, Abdalla described Bruzzese as an avid hunter and sportsman. The sheriff said that years earlier, he had urged Bruzzese to carry a weapon with him for protection due to all of the “nutcases” around the country.
“With all the nuts running around, I encouraged him to get a weapon,” Abdalla said. “And he did.”
According to Abdalla, Richmond approached the courthouse early Monday morning in a car with another person before leaving and returning. When Richmond saw Bruzzese, Abdalla said, he “jumped out” of the car and ran over to begin shooting.
The second person in the car is not considered an accomplice, Abdalla said, and told authorities that the shooter had only said he had to be in court Monday morning. This second person, who was not identified, did not get out of the car and was wounded by a possible bullet ricochet and taken to the hospital, the sheriff said.
Abdalla said authorities have video of the shooting that they are working to have enhanced to show people what happened.
“This man shoots a judge, could’ve killed him,” Abdalla said of Richmond.
He added: “Thank God he’s not that good a shot.”
Abdalla said authorities were investigating whether Richmond had any POSSIBLE connections to the judge, saying only that the shooter had “been involved in different things in Steubenville.”
Bruzzese’s work involves hearing criminal felonies as well as some civil cases, according to the court’s website.
In a statement Monday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said that the Steubenville Police Department asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the shooting.
DeWine said that the state agency assigned its special investigations, crime scene and cyber units to probe what happened.
“Fran and I are praying for Judge Bruzzese and his family at this difficult time,” DeWine said.
Rep. Bill Johnson, who represents Jefferson County, released a statement saying he was “very saddened and alarmed” by the shooting, noting that he had worked with Bruzzese, and he linked the incident to the attack on Republican members of Congress at a baseball practice in Virginia earlier this summer.
“From the shootings at the congressional baseball practice, to today’s tragic shooting, public officials are increasingly under assault,” Johnson said. “Public service shouldn’t be a dangerous occupation, but it all too often is.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman