Ohio leaders decry Black woman’s prison sentence after white woman gets probation for similar crime
Both women were convicted of stealing from people that had placed trust in them, but their punishments were starkly different
It is a case that exemplifies the pain, hurt, and concern of Black Americans and the justice system.
A clerk from Chagrin Falls, Ohio who stole more than $250K from taxpayers was spared the possible 20 years in prison her crime warranted. Debbie Bosworth was instead sentenced to two years probation. Karla Hopkins, who was found guilty of stealing $40K from a school district, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Bosworth is white. Hopkins is Black.
Leaders of Black faith organizations, labor organizations, judges, and social activists are now ringing the alarm about the sentencing disparities.
“It’s kind of hard to figure how you can end up with results that are so different for similar kinds of actions,” former longtime Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine told Cleveland.com. “Cases like these point out the need for the system to do a better job of reviewing the data because there’s lots of disparity between the way that people of color and white people are treated. But it doesn’t get captured because nobody’s really looking.”
But, now people are looking and they don’t like what they see.
Judge Hollie Gallagher sentenced Bosworth last Monday. Judge Rick Bell sentenced Hopkins the very next day.
Ohio leaders are calling for the development of a public database that would track all judicial sentencing. According to a report, “Only 10 of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court’s 34 judges have said they plan to sign on to the program. Six of those judges are in their first term on the bench.”
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly chimed in on the sentences writing, “Are we satisfied with a system that would allow for two extremely different results like this?” Donnelly asked. “Is that good policy? Does it make the community more safe, when our sentencing laws allow for that disparity? We need to ask that question in Ohio.”
Bosworth pleaded no contest to 22 counts of theft—including multiple counts of third-degree theft in office and admitted she stole $20K a year for twenty years before she was caught in 2019. At her sentencing, she turned over her pension in restitution which allowed for prosecutors to collect $200K of the $250K she’d stolen. She used the stolen money to pay for her children’s private schooling. She was granted leniency, in part, because the mayor of the city she stole from did not ask for her to be incarcerated.
Hopkins has a very different story.
The school secretary was responsible for collecting fees and dues from teachers at Maple Heights High School. Out of the more than $71K she collected in a year, she kept $42,000. She was indicted on one count of third-degree felony theft in office.
Hopkins told her attorney that she began stealing due to mental health issues and gambling addiction. Hopkins presented the court with $5K in restitution. But she emptied out her pension to pay bills that prevented the school district from going after it to recover the stolen funds as Ohio law mandates, per Cleveland.com. After her arrest, Hopkins did complete an inpatient treatment program and a job development program. She has no prior criminal record.
In court, Judge Bell scolded Hopkins for abusing the public trust.
“You knew that you had stolen money,” Bell told her, per the report. “You didn’t use that money to pay restitution that you knew you owed.
“I understand and am grateful you’re going on a journey to better yourself. But I think even your pastor would agree there has to be some consequence for your actions.”
He sentenced her to six months more than prosecutors recommended.
Neither judge has commented on the sentences.
“I think it reinforces the lack of trust in the justice system,” Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, said. “These types of things are the way the system was designed, and they will continue to happen if we don’t have large-scale reform.”
Meanwhile, Bosworth is at home and Hopkins is in prison.
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