COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man who shot and wounded a judge outside a county courthouse before being gunned down by a probation officer was the father of a high school football player who was convicted of rape in 2013, authorities said Monday.
Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. was shot Monday morning near the courthouse in Steubenville, across the Ohio River from West Virginia’s northern panhandle and just west of Pittsburgh.
Evidence markers were placed on the street and the sidewalk near the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio.
Authorities identified the gunman as Nathaniel “Nate” Richmond, the father of Ma’Lik Richmond. Ma’Lik, then 17, served about 10 months in a juvenile lockup after being convicted with another Steubenville High School football player of raping a 16-year-old girl during an alcohol-fueled party in 2012.
The case brought international attention to the eastern Ohio city of 18,000 residents and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the football team.
Investigators are looking for a motive in the shooting and haven’t found a connection to the rape case, prosecutor Jane Hanlin said.
A visiting judge from Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, handled the majority of the rape case.
Records show Bruzzese was overseeing a wrongful-death lawsuit that Nate Richmond filed in April against the Jefferson County Metropolitan Housing Authority. A hearing on a motion by the housing authority to dismiss punitive damages claims was set for Aug. 28. Messages were left for Richmond’s attorneys.
Richmond had a few traffic violations in the past couple of years, and several years ago he was arrested on various domestic violence and assault charges, court records show.
The prosecutor said Bruzzese was shoved to the ground during Monday’s attack. Courthouse video shows the judge and Richmond firing about five times each, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said.
Bruzzese was talking after being wounded, Steubenville City Manager James Mavromatis told WTOV-TV. The judge was flown to a Pittsburgh-area hospital. Ohio Governor John Kasich said he was told the judge would survive.
The attack had to be intentional because people know about the reserved spots where judges park, one of Bruzzese’s judicial colleagues said.
Judge Joseph Corabi said he and the county’s two other judges park in reserved spots next to the courthouse. Judges then walk a few feet down what’s known as Courthouse Alley to a side entrance to the building, said Corabi, the Jefferson County juvenile and probate court judge.
“Everybody knows who parks there. That’s why it’s not an accident what happened. He was clearly an intended target,” Corabi said.
Ma’Lik Richmond, now 21, is currently on the Youngstown State football team but isn’t allowed to play in any games, the school said this month.
News of his participation drew a wave of criticism in the university community recently, and a petition was started to keep him from playing.
Corabi said Bruzzese is known as an avid hunter. He called him fair, hardworking, well-liked and “a tough son of a gun.”
“He is very intelligent, and he can cut to the chase,” Corabi said. “He spots issues, and he resolves the issues.”
Bruzzese hears general and domestic relations cases as one of two judges serving in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.
Bruzzese has served on that court since 1997. He was most recently re-elected in 2014 for another six-year term.
He had likely arrived early to review his usual Monday morning batch of legal motions, Corabi said.
The shooting suspect’s body could be seen lying next to a car at the drive-thru of a neighboring bank. Police said a man who was in the car with him was taken into custody.
The courthouse was closed for the day as local and state authorities helped secure the scene. Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham told WTOV some courthouse workers witnessed the “tragic situation” and people would need time to process what happened.
The state crime lab will help investigate the shooting, Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O’Connor, called the attack a “cowardly ambush” and urged court personnel, especially judges, to take extra precautions.
“Violence against judges represents an attack on the Rule of Law, the foundation of our country,” O’Connor said.