A judge in Ohio is in stable condition after being attacked by a gunman outside the Jefferson County Courthouse Monday morning.
Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. had arrived at the courthouse around 8 a.m. when he was ambushed and shot by a lone gunman, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla. Bruzzese, who is described by his colleagues as an avid hunter and a “tough son of a gun,” drew his own weapon and returned fire. Abdalla said the suspect and Bruzzese each fired five shots at each other.
A nearby probation officer also opened fire on the suspect, so it isn’t clear whether Bruzzese was able to hit his target.
The suspect, who police later identified as Nathaniel Richmond, 51, collapsed not far from the scene and died from gunshot wounds.
“This individual laid in wait, for our judge, and … it just hurts. First thing on a Monday morning,” Abdalla said emotionally. “You have a judge shot in front of his courthouse, and that affected me… This was ambush and attempted murder on our judge.”
The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O’Connor, called the attack a “cowardly ambush” and urged court personnel, especially judges, to take extra precautions.
“Violence against judges represents an attack on the Rule of Law, the foundation of our country,” O’Connor said.
Investigators have not been able to determine a motive for the attack, but Richmond has appeared in court on numerous occasions, both on his own behalf and during a rape trial involving his son, Ma’lik Richmond.
Ma’lik and another high school football player were convicted in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl during an alcohol-fueled party in 2012. Ma’lik spent ten months in juvenile lockup and is now attending Youngstown State University, where he is a member of the football team, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators do not believe this incident motivated Monday’s attack.
“[There’s] no reason to believe there’s any connection between Ma’lik Richmond and his father’s actions today,” Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said.
Hanlin noted that Richmond has appeared in Bruzzese’s courtroom on a number of occasions. The AP reported that Richmond was arrested on various domestic violence and assault charges several years ago, but it still isn’t clear whether any of these incidents motivated the attack.
Another individual had accompanied Richmond and was seated in the passenger seat of his car when the shooting took place. This individual, whose identity police have not revealed, claims he or she did not know what Richmond planned to do. Police are questioning this person, who is not considered a suspect at this time.