Motive unknown in shooting of judge

STEUBENVILLE — Nathaniel Richmond spent his final hours Monday morning driving in downtown Steubenville, where he was stopped at 3:58 a.m. for having only one operable headlight.

The 51-year-old Richmond was issued a warning by a Steubenville police officer and told to get the defective headlight fixed before driving again.

Four hours later, Richmond would be waiting at the Huntington Bank drive-thru on Market Street to “ambush” Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese, as the 65-year-old jurist approached the Court Alley entrance of the courthouse.

“It was an ambush and attempted murder on our judge. Nathaniel Richmond arrived at the bank drive-thru at about 7:13 a.m., then he left and returned at 7:30 a.m.,” an emotional Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla told a growing crowd of reporters Monday afternoon.

Abdalla said security surveillance video at the courthouse captured Richmond emerging from a parked car and walking quickly toward Bruzzese.

“He basically shot point blank at the judge and we believe he fired five times. The judge used his gun and fired at Richmond. The judge fell and attempted to pick up his gun. At that point a court probation officer who was coming to work ordered Richmond to drop his weapon and when Richmond turned to the officer with his gun raised, the officer shot Richmond. Whoever thought this could happen here,” Abdalla asked.

One of the first people to run to assist Bruuzese was Jefferson County Common Please Judge Michelle Miller, a former nurse.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said a motive for the shooting “was still unknown, but we are still working on it,” during a late afternoon press conference at the Jefferson County Justice Center.

Bruzzese was taken by ambulance to Trinity Medical Center West and then was transferred to a waiting medical helicopter and taken to UPMC in Pittsburgh.

Hanlin said Monday afternoon Bruzzese was in serious condition following surgery.

Bruzzese has been a common pleas judge since he was elected to replace longtime common pleas judge Domenick Olivito in 1995. Bruzzese won re-election to his latest term in 2014.

A call for help was heard on the local police scanner with a deputy sheriff stationed at the courthouse calling for help and yelling, “shots fired, shots fired, we need 911 in Court Alley. One man down and we have shots fired. One man down.”

The area around the bank drive-thru was quickly surrounded by numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Steubenville Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, West Virginia State Police, Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI.

“The FBI is involved because we asked them to assist us. It is not uncommon for the FBI to partner with us on cases,” Hanlin said.

A second man who was in the suspected vehicle with Richmond and was taken to Trinity West for what the sheriff described as “a ricochet wound” had been questioned by Steubenville police and faced another round of questioning.

“No charges have been filed against this man who at this point is one of several witnesses to the shooting,” Hanlin added.

She said Richmond had been in the local court system for several cases during the past several years.

“We will have added security at the courthouse. We want our courthouse to be safe. We want all of our employees and our citizens to be safe when they visit the courthouse. We will do everything we can to make sure our officials and the public remains safe,” Hanlin said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham said security will be a main topic for discussion at Thursday commissioners’ meeting.

“We will obviously be talking to the sheriff for his thoughts. We already have a metal detector at our main entrance. And we will have to look at security outside of the courthouse,” Graham said.

Abdalla expressed concern at the Monday afternoon news conference regarding social media posts referring to retaliation.

“Force will be met with force,” Abdalla said.

“The judge was shot in front of the courthouse and it effects me. It is an attempted murder on a judge. Every judge should be armed today in America. Prosecutors need to be armed. It was a cold-blooded attempted murder on a judge,” Abdalla said.

He noted Bruzzese is an avid sportsman and hunter, which he believes helped him fight off the attack.

“There are so many nuts running around seeking retaliation,” Abdalla added of the situation.

Abdalla said the quick action of the probation officer made the difference.

“If the probation officer was not there, the shooter would have kept shooting until the judge was dead,” Abdalla said.

Hanlin asked citizens to report threats on social media to the local police or her office.

She declined to release the name of the probation officer who shot Richmond, “and saved Judge Bruzzese’s life. He fired his weapon in his own defense and to defend the judge. We are not releasing his name to make sure he and his family members are safe. He is not facing any charges,” Hanlin said.

She said she did not want to speculate or release preliminary information she would have to correct later.

Jefferson County Probate and Juvenile 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 “Court Alley” to a side entrance to the building, Corabi said.

“Everybody knows who parks there. That’s why it’s not an accident what happened. He was clearly an intended target,” Corabi said.

Local attorney Eric Reszke said, “It was an assassination attempt like something you’d see in South America. They crossed the line on this. Attorneys, judges and police officers never were targets in this manner. That has changed today.

“Nobody should have to wake up and see this. The courthouse is one place where arguments are supposed to be settled, with violence never being involved,” he continued. “That has changed forever.”