The Steubenville, Ohio, judge who was shot Monday appoints members of the public-housing board that, according to the shooter, is responsible for his mother’s death in a house fire.
Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. presided over the civil suit filed in April by the shooter, Nathaniel Richmond. On Monday, Richmond waited outside the courthouse for Bruzzese, ambushed him as he got out of his car, and fired five shots. Though wounded, Bruzzese fired back before a probation officer at the scene scene shot and killed Richmond.
As the lawsuit tells it, Richmond’s mother was trapped in a burning public housing building when it caught fire in 2015. She crawled out onto the roof of the building to make the 15-foot jump into a police officer’s arms and escape, the Steubenville Herald-Star reported. Before she could reach the roof’s edge, it collapsed, and she fell to her death. The 70-year-old mother and grandmother was pronounced dead at the scene, along with her 2-year-old great-grandson.
Richmond sued the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority for what he claims was his mother’s wrongful death. The suit outlined the over 100 housing violations the building had allegedly accrued. The suit claimed the housing authority was aware of these violations and the dilapidated condition of the building but did nothing.
Exposed electrical wires and inoperable smoke detectors are just a few of the examples included in the wrongful death lawsuit. “Defendants were informed by the inspection company that these conditions were ‘life threatening,’” the suit claimed. “Defendants chose not to fix or otherwise remedy these physical defects. In fact, defendants knew from the inspection company reports that there were over 100 ‘life threatening’ conditions at JMHA’s public housing unit.”
This wasn’t the first time Richmond had addressed the issues plaguing Steubenville’s public housing. He served on the Residential Advisory Board, a group of public housing residents who represent themselves and other residents in advocating for changes in lease agreements or improvements in housing.
Housing and Urban Development documents show Bruzzese, who presided over the wrongful death suit, appoints board members of the defendant, Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority, and was frequently involved in the county’s public housing. Bruzzese worked with Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, who represents Steubenville’s county, and attended Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority meetings to address affordable housing issues in the county.
Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the wrongful death case on Aug. 18. Three days later, Richmond shot Bruzzese.
Richmond’s motive is still not known by local police, who have also requested the help of the FBI in the ongoing investigation.
Tim Tolka, a protester during the Steubenville rape case in which Richmond’s son was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, said he’s been following happenings in the city since the rape trial in 2013 and said Bruzzese has a long history in Steubenville.
“One thing is for sure, Judge Bruzzese is deeply involved in housing issues, and his family is a major local property owner and their law firm represents property owner/s,” Tolka wrote in an email. “How does it look for him to rule on a wrongful death case involving a property association, over which he exercises a board appointment (and in the last year was sanctioned by state authorities for fraud)?”
Multiple calls to Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority for comment went unanswered and unreturned. Bruzzese remains in the hospital recovering from surgery.