The Death of Brandon Jones: Tragic, But Not Criminal
October 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) – In March of 2015, Cleveland officer Alan Buford and his partner Greg King responded to a convenience store break in, where they found 18-year-old Brandon Jones exiting the store with a bag of stolen cigarettes, cigars and coins. Jones used a crowbar to break into the store in the middle of the night, and the cash register was found by the door. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department conducted the criminal investigation and turned its results over to District Attorney Timothy J. McGinty.
You may remember McGinty, he was the DA who presented the Tamir Rice case to the grand jury that no-billed officer Timothy Loehmann. McGinty paid a price for making the correct, but unpopular decision, as he was defeated for reelection. Now, as a lame duck, he’s obtained the indictment of Buford for the death of the unarmed Jones. I’m sorry, but while he was right on Loehmann, he’s dead wrong on Buford.
Look, I understand some of the argument. It was the second officer-involved shooting that Buford was connected to-in 2004, Arlington Wilson, Jr. pinned Buford’s partner, Reginald Smith against a house with Wilson’s vehicle, and Smith fired eleven times into Wilson. Wilson then pulled the vehicle away from the house, freeing Smith, exited the vehicle and began to fight with Buford, before he collapsed and died. Smith was absolutely justified in shooting Wilson, but Cleveland settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $10,000. That’s chump change-the cost of taking it to trial would be far greater than $10,000. Those in Baltimore that would like to pursue a wrongful death claim following a fatal accident caused by negligent actions may want to reach out to lawyers, like Steven H. Heisler, with experience in this area.
I’m sympathetic to the fact that Jones was unarmed and a teenager, but lets face it clearly. Jones was a felon, a person committing the offense of breaking and entering to commit a theft, a fifth-degree felony in Ohio. McGinty has stated that it is not appropriate to use deadly force to protect property, and he’s absolutely correct. But in taking this case to the grand jury and indicting Buford, he’s absolutely wrong.
Let me lay this out for you. When Buford and King entered the convenience store, they did so with their guns drawn. Every halfway sensible cop would do the same because they are investigating a felony break-in and they don’t know if the suspect is still there or if he’s armed. It’s not a chance you take.
In the early part of my career, an officer I know was shot in the neck by his own gun while investigating a burglary. The burglar jumped him, fought with him, and managed to shoot the officer with his own gun. He survived and was lucky to be alive.
That’s the reason that Buford should not have been indicted. Yes, I know that Buford said that he did not intend to shoot Jones, that it was an accident. Yes, I know that this technically matches the elements of the offense of negligent homicide, the lowest level of homicide in Ohio. Right now, Buford is still employed by the Cleveland Police, assigned to restricted duty while under indictment.
The police union is supporting Buford, as they should. Last year they held a fund-raiser for Buford, raffling off a Glock 26 pistol and a 40-inch smart TV. That infuriated Paul Cristallo, the Jones family lawyer who was suing the department for wrongful death. Union president Steve Loomis blew off Cristallo’s comments. He pointed out that Buford was not able to work off-duty jobs and was having difficulty paying his bills. Loomis can be an ass, but he’s right in this case, and this is one reason to have police unions.
Buford has entered a not guilty plea. I think McGinty is wrong here. He should, but won’t, drop the case. Unless there is some evidence that I’m not aware of, Buford is going to win, because he should win.
If you decide to fight with the police while committing a burglary at night, and you end up dead, that’s just nature’s way of thinning the herd. Try working for a living instead of thieving. You’ll likely live a lot longer.
 In an interesting twist, over 25 years later I found myself as a law-school classmate of his daughter, a bright young woman who is going to be a very good lawyer.
 Cleveland detectives carry the Glock 26, a sub-compact 9mm. Patrol officers carry either the full-size Glock 17 or compact Glock 19, also in 9mm.
 The suit claims that Jones was already in custody, which is at odds with what the officers reported, that Jones was actively struggling with Buford.