A Monday morning exchange of gunfire outside of the Jefferson County courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, left a judge injured and the suspect who shot him dead.
Although the motive isn’t clear at this point, investigators think the judge was targeted.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor called the attack a “cowardly ambush.” She said it shows that the potential for violence against judges is very real. She also urged judges and other court personnel to take extra safety precautions.
“Violence against judges represents an attack on the Rule of Law, the foundation of our country,” O’Connor added.
According to local reports, Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese, Jr. was walking to the courthouse from his car just after 8 a.m. when the suspect ran up to him and opened fire. Bruzzese was struck multiple times. However, the judge was carrying a concealed handgun at the time and returned fire. A nearby armed probation officer also caught wind of the situation and shot the suspect. It’s unclear if both the officer and Bruzese struck the suspect.
Bruzzese was airlifted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and, according to City Manager Jim Mavromatis, he is now “doing fine.” The suspect collapsed a short distance from the courthouse and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said there was a second individual in the suspect’s car at the time of the attack, but that person apparently had no idea what the suspect planned to do. Abdalla said the man never got out of the car during the shooting and afterward spoke with officers and has cooperated with the investigation.
According to NBC News, the suspect’s passenger was also struck by a ricocheting bullet. He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released.
Authorities later identified the suspect as 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, the father of Ma’lik Richmond, a former high school football player who was convicted in 2013 for the sexual assault of a fellow student. Although, it’s unclear if the controversial, high-profile rape case – which Bruzzese did not preside over or have any other connections to – had anything to do with Richmond’s motives in the shooting.
However, according to Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Jane Hanlin, Richmond had multiple cases go through the county court, including a number of traffic violations, as well as domestic violence and assault.
“Whether there is a connection between any prior appearances and today’s action, we don’t know the answer to that,” Hanlin said.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the courthouse would remain closed until further notice.