Ohio City Not Entitled to Restitution for Bogus 911 Call

The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus, home of the Ohio Supreme Court. (Photo via Sixflashphoto/Wikipedia Commons)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — An Ohio city is not a victim entitled to restitution for resources used responding to a false report of an active shooter, the state’s high court held Thursday.  

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a statute giving crime victims the right to receive restitution, known as Marsy’s Law, applies to individuals and possibly private corporations, but does not extend to municipalities like the city of Centerville. 

Centerville sought restitution after Michael Knab called 911 in April 2018 to report an active shooter at his home, claiming someone had been shot. Because of the alarming nature of the report, most officers in the Centerville Police Department responded to the call.

But once there, Knab’s mother and a man staying at the home informed the officers that there was no active shooter and no one had been shot or injured. She told the police that her son may have been taking methamphetamines and was paranoid. 

Police found no firearms on the property during a search and saw no signs that any guns had been fired. They did find drug paraphernalia, a meat cleaver, a machete, unidentified pills and ammunition.

Knab was charged with false reporting and improper use of 911. He was found guilty of both charges. The municipal court in nearby Kettering ordered him to pay Centerville $1,375 in restitution, a number calculated by Centerville police for the time officers spent responding to the call from Knab rather than performing their regular duties.  

Knab appealed his convictions and sentence to Ohio’s Second District Court of Appeals, which affirmed his convictions but vacated the restitution order. The court found that the city cannot be a victim as defined by state law and that Centerville did not experience economic loss in a way that would allow it to receive restitution.  

Centerville appealed that decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing in June that the city is a victim under Marsy’s Law and should be awarded restitution. The state’s high court disagreed Thursday and upheld the appeals court’s decision.

Writing the majority, Justice Judith L. French said Ohio voters “who approved the constitutional amendment did not intend that a municipal corporation – a government entity – would qualify as a victim under the amendment.” The court, however, did not rule out the possibility of a municipality receiving restitution under other state laws.

“The ballot language for Marsy’s Law includes a list of rights that are primarily private and individual in nature,” French wrote. “There is simply nothing surrounding the national Marsy’s Law movement or the Ohio Marsy’s Law initiative that suggests that the voters understood and intended that a public corporation is a victim.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine and Melody J. Stewart joined French in her opinion. Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Michael P. Donnelly concurred in judgment only. 

In her concurring opinion, Kennedy said that although she agreed with the majority’s ultimate decision in the case, she said her colleagues went too far in determining whether a municipality is a “person” under Marsy’s Law. She noted that Centerville first responders were performing a government function when they responded to Knab’s 911 call.

“Accordingly, I would hold that a municipal corporation is not a victim of crime protected by Marsy’s Law when it suffers economic loss in responding to an emergency call,” Kennedy wrote. “Because the majority opinion goes beyond the narrow holding needed to decide this case, I concur in judgment only.”

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