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Family: Police botched stabbing investigation

Melissa Topey • Aug 9, 2010 at 12:23 AM

Police botched it, and her son might be forced to pay a terrible price.

That's what Carol Cherry says about an investigation Sandusky police conducted after a June 20 incident on Market Street.

Cherry's son, Jonteal Cherry, 16, was arrested for allegedly stabbing a woman, but she said police never bothered to figure out exactly what happened.

"Police failed to question anybody on Market Street," Carol said. "My son tried to walk away."

Carol maintains her son did not stab the victim, who suffered a puncture wound and was treated at Firelands Regional Medical Center after the incident.

An initial police report of the investigation did not list any witness names or other pertinent information or details, and did not include any witness statements.

"Upon arrival officers were advised Jonteal Cherry stabbed Andarra Branham," the report states, without further detail.

More than a month later, police acknowledged they still had not obtained witness statements after inquiries from Carol and the Sandusky Register.

Jonteal's attorney, Jessica Dillon, said police mishandled the incident.

"It wasn't an investigation at all, to charge someone with an F2 (second-degree felony) and try to bind it over to adult court where he could get 20-some years," Dillon said. "I feel I'm the only one doing any investigation for the Cherrys."

Erie County assistant prosecutor Cheryl Goodrum refused to discuss whether police properly gathered evidence.

Goodrum intends to force Jonteal into adult court to face charges for felonious assault and obstructing justice.

"At this point I feel comfortable with my case," Goodrum said.

Dillon is not the only one, however, questioning police methods.

Keith King, a former Lake County deputy sheriff who is now a private investigator and law enforcement instructor, said basic standards of investigation were not followed in the June 20 incident.

Police should have conducted direct interviews of independent witnesses to determine where they were and what they saw, and those interviews should have been documented, King said.

"It's important to get as much information as possible," he said.

Defense attorney Ian Friedman, former president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, said conducting proper interviews immediately at the scene secures the evidence.

"It gives everyone the best chance at getting to the truth," Friedman said.

A defendant deserves the higher standard.

"I have seen it and argued to a jury that it was not worthy of a conviction," Friedman said, referring to cases where police failed to immediately obtain witness statements. "With consequences this high I'd hope they conduct it by the book. The state has one strike against it already."

Sandusky police have declined to comment specifically on the concerns Carol Cherry and her son's attorney have raised.

Phone calls to acting Sandusky police chief Charlie Sams' cell phone went unreturned.

Sandusky police and the Erie County Prosecutor's office also declined to fulfill the Register's request for all police reports and witness statements, or video surveillance taken by police at the June 20 incident.

Jonteal turned 16 on Wednesday. He has been incarcerated for the last two months in the Erie County Detention Home.

He was one of three boys charged in the November 2009 BB gun vandalism of 60 cars and homes. He was convicted of felony vandalism charges and numerous misdemeanors in juvenile court.

Andarra Branham, the woman who was stabbed, said Friday she has almost healed from the injury she suffered.

"I'm trying to get over it. I'm just going to let it play out in the court," Branham said, declining further comment.

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