Racial gap com­pounds crime vic­tims’ an­guish

Bans on com­pen­sa­tion funds can hit black fam­i­lies hard­est

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Alysia Santo The Mar­shall Project

Af­ter his father was mur­dered in Sara­sota, Florida, in 2015, An­thony “Amp” Camp­bell was in shock. Not only had he lost his role model and sup­porter, but he also wor­ried about com­ing up with $10,000 to pay for the funeral and burial.

Camp­bell, an Alabama State Univer­sity foot­ball coach, emp­tied most of his sav­ings but still could not cover the whole cost. Po­lice urged him to ap­ply to Florida’s crime vic­tim com­pen­sa­tion fund for help. Ev­ery state has such a fund to re­im­burse peo­ple for the fi­nan­cial wal­lop that can come with be­ing a vic­tim.

The an­swer was no. His father, John­nie Camp­bell, had been con­victed of bur­glary in 1983 af­ter a

break-in at­tempt at a busi­ness, and Florida law is clear: Peo­ple with cer­tain types of felonies can­not re­ceive vic­tim aid. It did not mat­ter that the el­der Camp­bell had changed in 30 years – the city com­mis­sion called him a “prom­i­nent cit­i­zen” a month af­ter his death – or that his son had never com­mit­ted a crime.

Florida is one of seven states that bar peo­ple with a crim­i­nal record from re­ceiv­ing vic­tim com­pen­sa­tion. The laws are meant to keep money from go­ing to peo­ple who are deemed un­de­serv­ing.

But the rules have had a broader ef­fect: An anal­y­sis of records in two of those states – Florida and Ohio – shows that the bans fall hard­est on black vic­tims and their fam­i­lies, such as the Camp­bells.

“I just felt like they turned their backs on us,” said Camp­bell, 43, who lives in Mont­gomery, Alabama.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors of the funds do not set out to dis­crim­i­nate. They must fol­low state law di­rect­ing who can re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion. But crit­ics call the im­bal­ance a con­se­quence of a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that is not race-blind. Mul­ti­ple stud­ies show, for ex­am­ple, that black peo­ple serve harsher sen­tences than white peo­ple for the same crimes and more of­ten are charged with drug of­fenses, even though they use and sell drugs at about the same rates as white peo­ple.

In Florida, the ban ap­plies to any­one who has been con­victed as an adult of cer­tain felonies. In that state, about 30 per­cent of peo­ple who listed their race when ap­ply­ing for com­pen­sa­tion in 2015 and 2016 were black. But black ap­pli­cants made up 61 per­cent of peo­ple de­nied aid for hav­ing a crim­i­nal record, ac­cord­ing to the anal­y­sis by The Mar­shall Project and Re­veal from the Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Re­port­ing, in part­ner­ship with the USA TODAY NETWORK.

The racial dis­par­ity was sim­i­lar in Ohio, which de­nies com­pen­sa­tion to peo­ple not just con­victed of a felony in the past 10 years but sim­ply sus­pected of felonies in­volv­ing vi­o­lence or drugs, even if they were never found guilty or com­mit­ted the crime as a ju­ve­nile. In Ohio, 42 per­cent of vic­tims who ap­plied for re­im­burse­ment in 2016 and listed their race were black. But 61 per­cent of peo­ple turned down for hav­ing a record were black.

Some com­pen­sa­tion funds strug­gle to cover costs, bol­ster­ing one ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of lim­its: Money should be saved for the most wor­thy vic­tims. But the funds in Florida and Ohio rou­tinely close out the year with left­over cash. Florida ended 2017 with a bal­ance of $12 mil­lion and Ohio with $15 mil­lion.

Matthew Kanai, chief of the crime vic­tim ser­vices di­vi­sion for the Ohio state at­tor­ney gen­eral, which ad­min­is­ters that state’s com­pen­sa­tion fund, said funds have to fol­low rules set by leg­is­la­tors.

“It’s in no way say­ing you are less of a vic­tim,” he said. Whit­ney Ray, a spokesman for the Florida at­tor­ney gen­eral, said the state must com­ply with the law.

An­dre Win­ston, 38, was stabbed to death in July 2015 when he tried to pro­tect a woman who was be­ing threat­ened at an apart­ment com­plex in Fair­born, Ohio, prose­cu­tors said.

Kenna Ro­driguez, the mother of his fi­ancee and grand­mother to his child, took out pay­day loans and maxed out her credit cards to cover the $4,500 funeral bill. She then ap­plied to the state vic­tims’ com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram for help.

But Win­ston had been con­victed of pos­sess­ing co­caine in 2008, so Ro­driguez’s ap­pli­ca­tion was de­nied. About a quar­ter of the 552 de­nials for hav­ing a crim­i­nal his­tory in the Ohio anal­y­sis went to fam­i­lies ap­ply­ing for help af­ter a loved one’s mur­der. And in 74 per­cent of those homi­cides, the mur­der vic­tim, like Win­ston, was black.

Ro­driguez ap­pealed. Her at­tor­ney ar­gued the state should adopt a “good Sa­mar­i­tan” ex­cep­tion for peo­ple such as Win­ston, but she lost.

“He gave his life so some­one else could live,” Ro­driguez said. “And then they just say, ‘The dude was a felon, too bad.’ ”

State com­pen­sa­tion funds paid out more than $348 mil­lion in 2016, the most re­cently avail­able fed­eral data show. To get re­im­burse­ments – capped any­where from $10,000 to nearly $200,000 – vic­tims first must ex­haust all other re­sources, such as in­sur­ance.

States set their own el­i­gi­bil­ity rules. Most deny re­im­burse­ment to vic­tims who refuse to co­op­er­ate with law en­force­ment or who were com­mit­ting a crime that con­trib­uted to their in­jury or death. States with bans – which also in­clude Arkansas, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, North Carolina and Rhode Is­land – go one step fur­ther, scour­ing the vic­tim’s past.

In 2014, An­to­nio Ma­son was a col­lege stu­dent and bas­ket­ball player in Cleve­land when his car was rammed by a speed­ing drunken driver. He was par­a­lyzed from the chest down.

Ma­son, 26, ap­plied to the state com­pen­sa­tion fund to help make his house and car wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble. Ohio vic­tims can get up to $50,000.

But Ma­son was dis­qual­i­fied be­cause when he was 16, he was found guilty in ju­ve­nile court of drug traf­fick­ing. Drug traf­fick­ing is among the most com­mon rea­sons peo­ple with crim­i­nal his­to­ries are de­nied aid in Ohio. The most com­mon – 1 in 5 de­nials – is drug pos­ses­sion.

“They al­ways say that your ju­ve­nile record is sealed, they can’t use it against you as an adult. And yet they still found a way,” Ma­son said.

In Ohio, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike DeWine, a Repub­li­can run­ning for gov­er­nor, sub­mit­ted a mea­sure to the Leg­is­la­ture last month that would al­low peo­ple with crim­i­nal his­to­ries to get help on be­half of a mi­nor and re­duce the re­view pe­riod from a decade to five years.

The mur­der of John­nie Camp­bell, who was shot to death by a neigh­bor over a petty dis­pute, still pains his son.

“He was al­ways there for all of his kids,” said Amp Camp­bell, who has four sib­lings.

For three years, John­nie Camp­bell lay in an un­marked grave be­cause his son could not af­ford the $4,000 head­stone. One was fi­nally placed on the gravesite in March, when Amp made the last pay­ment.


An­thony “Amp” Camp­bell was de­nied vic­tim com­pen­sa­tion to help with the burial costs for his father, John­nie Camp­bell, who was mur­dered in Florida in 2015.

John­nie, far right, Pearl and their son Amp Camp­bell at Michi­gan State Univer­sity. Af­ter his father was killed, Amp Camp­bell says, he felt the state “turned their backs on us.”


An­to­nio Ma­son was de­nied aid be­cause as a ju­ve­nile he had been charged with drug traf­fick­ing.

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