“It was kind of a huge undertaking, making copies, and filing stuff and one day I got something in the mail and they are like, ‘your blood test in the hospital showed you were under the influence of amphetamines,‘” she said. “I just cried.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office paid out $102,731 in victims compensation assistance to 29 victims and families from the Oregon District mass shooting, agency officials say.
In addition to Green and Young, the state denied 17 other claims, most for not having a documented financial loss, having other sources to cover their loss — such as insurance — or not responding to requests for information. Four were denied because they had a felony record.
More denials than payouts
The victims compensation program, administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, is funded through drivers license reinstatement fees and court costs paid by people accused of crimes. It brought in $15.2 million last year. The program is designed to reimburse crime victims for things like medical expenses, funeral costs, crime-scene cleanup and counseling. It paid out $7.9 million in claims. It also spends millions each year reimbursing hospitals for rape kits.
The fund ended last year with a balance of $6.2 million, the lowest in a decade. State officials say this is largely because court costs and drivers license reinstatement fees are down.
Ohio’s program has some of the strictest rules in the nation. A Dayton Daily News investigation in 2017 found a woman who was the victim of sex trafficking was denied aid because drugs were found in her system when she was taken to the hospital for a rape kit. Victims can be denied aid if they are charged or even accused of a crime, even if they aren’t convicted.
The newspaper’s investigation found that through 2016 the fund paid out less each year going back a decade even as the number of claims spiked.
Payouts from the fund have increased since then. But the number of people both requesting and receiving help has decreased for years and the state declines more claims than it pays out every year. In 2019, the program paid 2,677 claims and denied 2,681. The average payment was for $2,961.
Asked why applications for aid are decreasing, the attorney general’s office said efforts focused on education and outreach have given courts and advocates a better understanding of eligibility requirements. “The number of claims filed has decreased in conjunction with better education about eligible claims. People are less likely to file ineligible claims,” wrote agency spokesman Dave O’Neil.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said the program denying help to victims of a tragedy like the Oregon District shooting underlines the need for reforms.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think we need to look into changing the rules,” she said. “We need to change it so it doesn’t occur in the future.”
Lehner proposed legislation in 2018— supported by Mike DeWine, who was then attorney general and is now governor — that would have made the program more accessible.
Senate Bill 322 would have expanded the definition of victim to include witnesses to a crime, allow a parent to file a claim on behalf of a child victim regardless of the parent’s criminal history, and reduce the look-back period for criminal disqualification to five years.
Attorney General Dave Yost’s office declined to comment on whether he supported such a change, saying “Any changes to the program would require legislative action.”
‘It’s just not right'
Green said he was unaware of his father’s prior conviction until he was turned down help from the state. He said the denial letter was like salting an emotional wound.
“You’re already going through that pain and agony, and you get a letter saying ‘denied,‘” he said. “It put me in another place of anger.”
Dion Green places a portrait of his father, Derrick Fudge, on Fifth St. in the Oregon District.
Credit: JIM NOEKLER
Credit: JIM NOEKLER
Fudge was charged in December 2010 with drug trafficking and pleaded guilty in March 2011. He was sentenced to 90 days of home monitoring and three years of community control, according to Clark County Common Pleas Court records.
More than nine years later on Aug. 4, 2019, Green was next to Fudge when a gunman opened fire in the Oregon District. Fudge was one of nine people killed. Dozens of others were wounded. Green has said he believes his father saved his life.
“He was a victim of a crime... but because he had a felony, it doesn’t matter if he’s a victim of a crime?” Green said. “It’s just not right.”
Like other victims and family members, Green did get money donated by the public via the Dayton Foundation. Green created the FUDGE Foundation, his father’s name an acronym for Flourishing Under Distress, Giving Encouragement. The foundation seeks to connect crime victims to supports, including the victims compensation fund. The foundation recently gave $500 to a family whose daughter was murdered in Cincinnati by her boyfriend.
Green said families of crime victims shouldn’t be denied help because of something their dead son, daughter, mother or father may have done in the past.
“A lot of these families losing kids are probably living in impoverished neighborhoods and don’t have money to pay for a funeral,” he said. “Now this family is scraping together the last of their savings to bury their loved ones. But while they’re burying their loved ones they’re burying themselves in debt.”
Alayna Young works at Blind Bob’s but was off work having a late-night bite to eat with friends on Fifth Street when the shooting started. She suffered a gunshot wound to the leg before making her way into Blind Bob’s and barricading herself into an office with others. She was taken to Grandview Medical Center.
“I found out while I was in the hospital my insurance had lapsed,” she said. Coverage had stopped Aug. 1.
Concerned about medical bills, she left the hospital with bullet fragments still in her leg after less than a day. But still, the medical bills topped $80,000. A victims advocate suggested she apply to the victims compensation fund. The application process was arduous and took several months, she said. She sent them medical records, receipts from filled prescriptions.
Blind Bob's bartender, Alayna Young was shot during the mass shooting in the Oregon District last year. Young was denied state aid meant for crime victims.
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
On Dec. 13, 2019 she received a letter saying “a toxicology report from Grandview Hopsital (sic) indicates that, at the time of the criminally injurious conduct, you tested positive for amphetamines, the use or possession of which is felonious unless taken in accordance with a medical prescription.”
“Therefore, while the Attorney General recognizes your loss, the law requires that this claim be denied,” the letter concludes.
Young said she has been on prescription Adderall, an amphetamine, for years to treat her ADHD. She said it felt like they were trying to fight her instead of help her. She was overwhelmed, went back to work and was still coping emotionally with what happened. She said she intends to file an appeal but the program shouldn’t have made it so hard in the first place.
Young said she is grateful for the Dayton Foundation donations, but she only received $20,000 because of the short amount of time she was hospitalized. The most the victims compensation fund pays out is $50,000. So even if she got the money, it wouldn’t pay off her medical bills.
“It’s almost like they are pretending to impose their morality on people, to judge if they’re worthy of this honestly piddly amount of money in the big scheme of things,” she said.
‘You got the money, help people'
The non-profit journalism organization The Marshall Project reported in 2018 that Ohio was one of only seven states that restricted access to victims compensation funds from people with criminal records.
Because of inequities in the criminal justice system, their investigation found, the rule disproportionally impacted Black victims. Black victims made up 42 percent of applications in 2016, the year they analyzed, but 61 percent of those denied solely because of their criminal history were Black.
Sen. Lehner’s bill to broaden access to the program never made it out of committee. She is term-limited and leaving office after this year, but both the Democrat and Republican vying for her seat support changing the program rules.
Both Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani and Democrat Mark Fogel were shocked that victims of the Oregon District shooting were denied help from the state.
“On its face it seems as though they should (qualify). They were clearly victims of the crime and if someone was convicted of a non-sex, non-violent crime, once they’ve paid their time and once it’s clear they’ve been rehabilitated and are contributing members of society they should certainly have access to the government programs that anyone else has access to,” Antani said.
“We’re effectively double-victimizing them and I find it unconscionable,” Fogel said.
Likewise both support peeling back rules denying assistance to addicts who become the victims of crimes while on drugs.
While Young had a prescription, she is offended that the state would deny victims of such a tragic event help even if they were on non-prescription drugs that night, or if they had a criminal history.
“Why do they get to decide who’s deserving?” she said. “You got the money, help people.”