A County of Two Tales
Updated: Feb 25, 2022
After stealing more than $200,000 from the village of Chagrin Falls, Debbie Bosworth was able to avoid jail time with a sentence of two years probation. The next day, Karla Hopkins was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing $40,000 from the Maple Heights High School.
Both Chagrin Falls and Maple Heights are suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Both cases were brought before the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Both defendants were city workers found guilty of theft. The main difference?
Bosworth is white and Hopkins is Black.
Upon closer examination of both cases, clear disparities are seen at every level.
Chagrin Falls is a small village nestled in northern Ohio. Chagrin Falls residents are 98% white with a median household income of $105,844, 44.6% greater than the median annual income in the rest of the state. Bosworth served as a city clerk and embezzled over $238,000 over the course of two decades. She was only caught after receiving a promotion in 2019.
In June 2021, Court Judge Hollie Gallagher, a white woman, found Bosworth guilty of 22 counts, including theft in office, tampering with records, and money laundering. Gallagher ordered Bosworth to return the stolen assets as well as pay the cost of the village’s audit by August 2nd to avoid jail. While the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office sought jail time, Gallagher did not believe that Bosworth deserved prison time since she planned to forfeit $200,000 in pension funds and wrote the village a $100,000 check. Village Mayor William Tomko, although condemning Bosworth’s actions, notably did not call for jail time in his letter to the court.
Maple Heights is only a 17 minute drive from Chagrin Falls but looks radically different. Maple Heights is nearly 70% African American and has a median income of less than half Chagrin Falls at $42,805. Hopkins embezzled $42,000 between July 2017 and June 2018 from the Maple Heights High School senior class assets. Unlike Bosworth who pleaded no contest in June 2021, Hopkins pleaded guilty to one count of theft in office.
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office also sought jail time for Hopkins. Her defense attorney Bret Jordan argued that Hopkins struggled with mental illness and a gambling addiction. Hopkins completed an eight-week inpatient program and gave her lawyer $5,000 to begin repaying the funds she stole. Court Judge Rick Bell, a white man, rejected Jordan’s defense, citing the fact that Hopkins knowingly emptied and spent her stolen pension. While Bell commended Hopkins for her journey to better herself, he ultimately sentenced her to 18 months in prison. Bells reasoned that there needed to be “some consequences” for her actions.
After a large community outrage about the difference sentencing. Judge Bell converted the 18 month prison sentence to just 43 days on September 13, 2021, freeing Hopkins. Bell then placed Hopkins on a five year probation and ordered she get a job, pay full restitution to the town’s high school, refrain from grambling, and complete counseling services. Ironically, the original decision to send Hopkins to prison in August disrupted her plans to find work through a job placement program. Hopkins would have started a new position the following week if she was not imprisoned.
The difference between Bosworth’s probation and Hopkins’ imprisonment is just another— almost cartoonish— example of the racial disparities within the criminal legal system. This case cannot be simplified to just two women of differing races committing the same crime. Using the logic of the criminal legal system, those who do more harm should face harsher consequences. Any way you examine both cases the answer is clear: Bosworth caused more harm. In addition to stealing more money over a longer period of time, it is important to note that Bosworth stole utility payments from Chagrin Falls residents. Hopkins took yearbook money and student ID fines. You cannot deny that Hopkins’ theft had a negative impact on the students and families at Maple Heights High but it would be disingenuous to place her actions on the same level as Bosworth’s.