Convictions made new violence reduction leader best hire, mayor says

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Alexandra Mester, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·7 min read
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Feb. 23—The man tasked with building Toledo's newest program from the ground up after a record-breaking year of violence doesn't have a clean background himself, but city officials say they believe that history will serve him well in the unique position he was hired for.

"We did not believe that his background prevented him from serving in this position, and in fact, in a counterintuitive way, some of the experiences he had made him the best possible person to hire into this job," Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said Monday. "Someone with the resume of an altar boy or a Boy Scout wouldn't be able to relate as well to the folks that this position has to relate to. This was a decision that we made with eyes wide open."

JoJuan Armour, 44, a central city native and a Central Catholic graduate, began Tuesday as the program manager for the mayor's initiative to reduce gun violence. The effort is a first of its kind in Toledo, aimed at addressing gun violence as a public health crisis to take a comprehensive approach to address root causes.

"Being under the public eye, my story can be of benefit to somebody," he said. "Having the past that I've had, it can show that it can be done."

Mr. Armour has a misdemeanor criminal record that includes three impaired driving convictions and disorderly conduct charges stemming a fight that led to a stabbing and threatening a police officer. He said he doesn't hide from his personal history, but instead will use it to illustrate that people can learn from mistakes and make positive changes.

"Having this position allows me to model the behavior we want to see," Mr. Armour said. "You can learn from your past and move forward."

In 2007, Mr. Armour and two other men were fighting on the sidewalk in the 200 block of North Huron Street, a report states. He was accused of refusing officers' orders to stop fighting and throwing an officer to the ground as he was physically restrained and arrested. One man was stabbed in the melee, and a knife was recovered from the third man's pocket.

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Mr. Armour was ultimately convicted in Toledo Municipal Court on two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct.

He said from about 14 to 36 years old was "a point in my life where I was fighting a lot." He got counseling for anger management, learned to identify risks and triggers, and established healthy behaviors for dealing with those situations.

"I haven't had a single altercation, a single conflict, since then," he said.

But he struggled in other ways. In 2011, a Toledo police officer spotted a vehicle driving very slowly on Jackman Road near West Sylvania Avenue, later crossing into oncoming lanes, and driving over curbs before stopping in the front yard of a house, according to a report. Mr. Armour failed field sobriety tests and then allegedly threatened to shoot an officer and harm his family while being transported to the Lucas County jail.

He was convicted in the municipal court of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and misdemeanor disorderly conduct in that incident.

In 2015, Mr. Armour was convicted in Franklin County Municipal Court on his second OVI. Records from that case were not immediately available, nor were records from a July, 2002 case in the same court in which Mr. Armour was initially charged with OVI but pleaded to a reduced charge of reckless operation.

Most recently, Mr. Armour received his third OVI conviction stemming from a Dec. 28, 2018 incident in which a Toledo police report shows he crossed into the median and struck several signs on Cherry Street before stopping on Woodrow Boulevard. His blood-alcohol content in a breath test registered .152, nearly twice the legal limit.

Mr. Armour said after retiring from 10 years as a professional football player, he struggled to find a new path and wasn't dealing with difficult emotions properly.

"When you accomplish your life goal at 22, 23 years old, you're stuck in limbo," he said. "There was a lot of transition that took place, a lot of things I was dealing with emotionally. Then I was going through a divorce and this was a whole new issue I had to deal with."

Mayor Kapszukiewicz said Mr. Armour was forthright and remorseful about his past, dealing with questions about it directly and thoughtfully. While his convictions likely would have precluded him from being hired for other city positions, leading the new initiative is "absolutely different" than other city jobs.

"For a position like this, it was more important to us that we had someone who had authentic life experiences that would make him relatable to the people he'll be working with," Mayor Kapszukiewicz said.

Others who participated in a panel interviewing Mr. Armour and a second finalist agreed.

"If we really want to be responsive to the issues in all of the ways those issues present themselves, we have to understand that we need people who know what it's like to live those lives," Doni Miller, chief executive of the Neighborhood Health Association and an interview panelist, said. "Everybody should be allowed to move forward. When you can use that experience in a way that's helpful, I think we should do that."

Ms. Miller said Mr. Armour not only met the basic requirements for the job and had the desired skill sets and community connections, he had clearly spent a lot of time considering how he would approach the job.

"Mr. Armour had really thought this position through," she said. "He had solid responses regarding his plan for implementing this position."

Vanice Williams, city councilman representing District 4 that includes much of central Toledo, was also impressed by Mr. Armour during the panel interview, saying his is a redemption story.

"He knows how to connect with people," she said. "He knows how to get stuff done. He is not a perfect man. He has struggles like everybody does. ... This position needs him, and I'm going to help give him the tools he needs. I'm ready for him to get to work."

Katy Crosby, the city's chief of staff, said Mr. Armour's passion stood out immediately.

"For him, it was really important to be able to give back to his community and repair the relationships that were damaged," she said.

Mr. Armour had been the student wellness and family liaison for the Columbus Arts and Technology Academy since March. Immediately prior, he was the quality assurance program manager for the Urban Minority Alcohol and Drug Abuse Outreach Program in Lucas County.

He understands the trauma of growing up and living in difficult circumstances, Mr. Armour said. He was raised in the troubled Junction neighborhood where violence continues to be an ever-present problem. He said he was among the many in a crowded parking lot that was a popular teenage hangout when a gunman opened fire in 1995. Kevin Ellis, 18, died and seven others were wounded.

"If we really want to change the trajectory of gun violence in our community, we really have to be able to connect to those high-risk individuals," Ms. Crosby said. "His skillset, coupled with his personal story, will help him be successful."

Getting involved in the community, volunteering and giving back, helped him break his own negative patterns, he said. It also created additional positive connections with people and organizations throughout the community that he will draw on in his new role.

Both Ms. Crosby and the mayor said they have received far more positive community feedback than negative since Mr. Armour's hiring was announced last week.

"It was stunning to me how well regarded JoJuan is," Mayor Kapszukiewicz said.

Mr. Armour said he's not concerned about the naysayers who believe his past should have excluded him from being offered the job.

"My concern is helping the citizens of Toledo and making sure that we reduce gun violence," he said. "I'm looking forward to the work ahead."

First Published February 23, 2021, 7:00am