LORAIN — Amber Bronish, the daughter of Nancy Smith, said Thursday she had nothing to do with the release of tapes she secretly recorded of her conversations with Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera over the years.
In the tapes, Rivera can be heard saying that officers “just felt like there wasn’t enough evidence” to prosecute Smith and Joseph Allen in the controversial Head Start child molestation case from the 1990s.
Rivera also said in portions of the tape aired by WOIO-Channel 19 News on Wednesday that former Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum pushed police for the case even though officers raised questions about the evidence. During the 1994 trial, Rosenbaum argued that Smith had taken 4- and 5-year-old students from her Head Start bus route to Allen’s house where the children were sexually abused.
Rivera and Rosenbaum could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Bronish said she has had conversations with Rivera for years about the case and he was working with her on a request for a pardon from the governor. At one point, she said, Rivera stopped talking to her but called her again a few months later.
Bronish said she decided it would be best if she recorded the conversations.
“So if I ever needed to prove anything he said to me, I could,” she said.
Rivera had actually explained the laws governing recording conversations to her when he gave her a tape recorder — not the same one she used to record the chief — for when she talked to other people in the case, Bronish said. Under the law, only one party in a conversation has to agree to have it recorded.
Bronish and Jack Bradley, Smith’s lawyer, said they hadn’t wanted the recordings released by Joseph Montelon, a former Lorain police officer and convicted sex offender.
“Certainly when law enforcement starts to question itself, it tells us we need to do something,” Bradley said. “But (the tapes) have to be listened to in context and not just listened to in snippets.”
Bradley and Bronish said they had no idea Montelon had copies of the tapes and aren’t sure how he got them.
“There is a time and a place for these, but this wasn’t it,” Bronish said.
The tapes were to be part of the evidence Bradley and the Ohio Innocence Project planned to use in their efforts to win a new trial in the case.
“This isn’t the way I wanted this particular hand played,” Bradley said.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said he is willing to review whatever new evidence is brought to him.
Bradley believes Montelon, who has a long-running feud with Rivera that dates to the early 1990s when Rivera, then a captain, investigated sex allegations against the former Lorain police officer, may not have the best interests of Smith and Allen at heart.
Montelon is being investigated for allegedly writing venomous anti-police letters that were sent for years to local media, politicians and law enforcement officials. Montelon has refused to say whether he wrote the letters, but a search of his Wickliffe home in August 2008 turned up evidence police have said links Montelon to the letters.
Montelon declined to comment Thursday on the complaints about his decision to release the Rivera tapes, but he said Wednesday that he did so to bring the problems in the Head Start and other cases investigated by the Lorain Police Department to light.
Smith and Allen remain free while the Ohio Supreme Court reconsiders a decision in which the justices ruled that Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge overstepped his authority when he acquitted Smith in 2008. If that decision remains in place, Burge would have to send Smith back to prison.
Burge also acquitted Allen and the 9th District Court of Appeals has ruled he shouldn’t have done that and that Allen should be returned to prison.
Burge originally intended to resentence the pair because of technical flaws in the original sentencing entries in their case, but after reviewing the evidence the judge said he became convinced they were wrongly convicted.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.