It’s hard to find a positive in the Dec. 9, 2016, shooting death of Trey D. James on George Street.
But if there is one, it’s that Findlay got a much-needed wake-up call about its darker side. There can be no more talk about being immune from violent, senseless crime. Yes, it can happen here, too.
The community has had rude awakenings before as far as drugs, guns and gangs were concerned. It has cleaned up gang graffiti in neighborhoods and experienced occasional drive-by shootings. A considerable amount of tax dollars have been used to prosecute criminal drug “enterprises.”
But there’s been nothing quite like this. The shooting of James is another reminder that there can be more than meets the eye in small cities like Findlay. The chaos of that afternoon on George Street may be familiar to police in big cities, but it’s a world seldom visited by most people here.
Four months ago, James, of Findlay, was shot during a fight in a home just north of downtown.
When officers arrived at George Street, they found James on the floor dying of five gunshot wounds, and four or five witnesses, including the shooter, Travis Baldridge. Police were told others had already fled the scene.
A grand jury finally reviewed the case this week, and opted not to return any criminal charges against anyone, including Baldridge, who claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot James.
During the investigation, police discovered four loaded weapons in the home where James was shot. All the firearms were legally registered except for the one carried by James, which had been reported stolen from Seneca County.
One problem for police was sorting fact from fiction.
Some people officers talked to believed James had been set up to go to 241 George St., the same home where a burglary had occurred five days earlier. James had been accused by some of committing that crime and was reportedly angry when he went there to discuss it with those who lived there.
James was unarmed when he first arrived, and was beaten up and forced to leave, according to reports. But he returned a short time later after retrieving a gun, and was shot when he reportedly pointed the weapon in the direction of Baldridge.
James never fired his AR-15 style weapon that day. Police said the only gun discharged was an AK-47 pistol by Baldridge. That semi-automatic gun was registered to another man at the house.
A nearly 100-page city police report shows the complexities that can arise when police must piece together conflicting stories.
Some witnesses were reluctant to even talk to police because of fear of retaliation, as both Baldridge and James have claimed gang affiliations. Other witnesses refused to cooperate or changed their statements from one interview to the next.
Four cellphones and a tablet of some of those present were seized by police. Text and call logs were extracted from the devices in an effort to link people to the events leading up to the shooting and what was said about it later. James’ cellphone could not be unlocked by police, but text messages he had sent to at least one man indicated he was upset before he went to George Street.
Collectively, the information painted an abstract picture of what might have and could have happened that December afternoon. The grand jury’s “no bill” on Tuesday would seem to be the proper resolution considering the tangled web of evidence.
As Hancock County Prosecutor Phil Riegle explained afterward, “A grand jury is not tasked with finding guilt or innocence, only with finding probable cause that a crime occurred.”
The no bill suggests they could not find it.
With most crime, but especially when someone is killed, there is a demand for justice. In this case, one of the few in which self-defense was raised in a Hancock County homicide, the call for justice came from both James’ family and friends and from Baldridge.
In the end, however, there couldn’t be justice for all.
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