Article 25

Streetwise

In Uncategorized on 10/07/2011 at 10:19 pm

Si and I

By Gregory Flannery

 

I can’t say I’m in any way fond of Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. Like many people, I took delight in the recent announcement that he won’t seek re-election next year. But I owe a lot to him. He played a formative role in my moral development and in my career as a journalist.

In 1979 two escaped prisoners kidnapped the Rev. Maurice McCrackin, pastor of the Community Church of Cincinnati. A longtime pacifist – jailed for refusing to pay federal income taxes because of his opposition to war – McCrackin refused to testify against his kidnappers. He had, in fact, called for the abolition of prisons. Leis was county prosecutor at the time. McCrackin spent 111 days in the county jail for his stand on principle.

A couple years later I was still an idealistic and foolish young man when a teenage boy in Price Hill pulled a knife and tried to stab me. I wasn’t hurt, but I knew this kind of behavior couldn’t go unchallenged. In fact, the kid also pulled the knife on two others that day. I reported the assault to police, who arrested him. I testified in juvenile court. Teen Challenge, a drug-rehabilitation facility for kids, agreed to take the boy for inpatient treatment.

Prosecutors, however, decided the kid should be tried as an adult. When I received a subpoena to testify against him before a grand jury, I went to the West End and met McCrackin, asking what I should do. I ended up refusing to testify and found myself locked up for contempt of court. The initial order was 24 hours behind bars. When I appeared before a judge the next day, he ordered me held “until such time as I shall purge (myself) of (my) contempt.”

My attorney came to visit me and warned that I could be held for up to nine months. He said he had spoken to Leis, pointing out that there were two other witnesses willing to testify against the kid. Leis would have none of it. My lawyer quoted Leis thus: “He said, ‘Nobody fucks with my grand jury.’ ”

I only did 12 days in the Cincinnati Workhouse. But I learned something about power – and about the cost of challenging Simon Leis Jr.

 

A few years later I was working at the Mount Washington Press when we received a tip from a judge: He claimed he’d been at a party, where he saw several assistant prosecutors using cocaine. The article infuriated Leis, especially when I quoted him saying, “If you run that story, I’ll screw you to the wall.” The late Frank Weikel, a popular columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, reported that Leis was going to sue us for libel. He never did. I learned something about journalism as a result. The publisher of that newspaper was every bit as dogged as Leis in standing up for what he believed in. He believed the story was accurate, and he published it.

 

Subhead: Scary Women Demanding Equality

 

I haven’t talked to Leis in decades. He doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. He has been busy, of course. There was the little matter of the art show he temporarily shut down as sheriff in 1990, having deputies videotape Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs at the Contemporary Arts Center while grand jurors studied them for possible obscenity. The case went to trial, the jury ruled “not guilty” and Cincinnati became a laughingstock. That is one of the biggest parts of Leis’s long legacy in local politics. His prosecution of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt on obscenity charges in 1971 was successful – until an appeals court overturned the conviction, a case memorialized in the film, the People vs. Larry Flynt.

 

My favorite memory of Leis is a speech he gave on Fountain Square in 2005 – not only because it is so unintentionally funny but because it captures the dangers of his disdain for civil liberties:

“Our country is in great peril, not from an approaching army but from a satanic pestilence that has already invaded our nation with a drug-infested culture, littering our country and neighborhoods with untold corpses and its collateral family damage. … Sealed under glass in Washington, D.C, the Constitution of the United States of America lulls Americans into a false sense of security, believing that nothing can change the ideals and intent of its God-fearing framers. … The gay and lesbian coalitions, rabid feminist groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (are) all competing for power. … Many use their political action committee funds to influence elected officials, to represent these parasitic groups who proselytize and force us, under the protection of law, to tolerate and accept their despicable conduct and agenda.”

One can forgive Leis’s empire-building – acquiring helicopters, patrol boats, even an armored vehicle, all put on display for parades – and even his lack of couth, having prisoners clean up horse droppings in parades. But his opposition to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and equality before the law are good reasons to celebrate his retirement.

 

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