A disgraced former judge who went to prison for beating his then-wife so severely in 2014 that she required facial reconstructive surgery was taken into custody after she was found slain Saturday morning, Ohio police said.
The Shaker Heights Police Department said officers responded to a 911 call at a residence in the morning, prompting them to launch an investigation into Aisha Fraser’s killing. Ex-Cuyahoga County judge Lance Mason, Fraser’s former husband, was taken into custody, police said.
Shaker Heights Police Cmdr. John Cole said Monday morning that the department is “anticipating charges later today” against Mason, though he was unable to offer additional information. Details about Fraser’s killing were also not immediately available; however, Cleveland.com reported that she was fatally stabbed.
In a 911 call obtained by NBC affiliate WKYC, a woman who identifies herself as Mason’s sister tells a dispatcher that Mason admitted to stabbing his ex-wife.
“I need the police immediately, my brother is attacking his ex-wife,” the woman says, adding that the incident took place outside a home. “He stabbed her, and he says she’s dead.”
While trying to flee the scene Saturday, Mason drove an SUV into a police cruiser, causing “serious injuries” to a police officer’s lower legs and ribs, according to Cleveland.com. Mason then tried to escape on foot and was arrested. Police charged him with felonious assault in the collision that injured the officer.
Both Mason and the police officer were treated at a hospital.
Mason pleaded guilty in 2015 to attempted felonious assault and domestic violence after punching Fraser 20 times and slamming her head against the dashboard of a car five times in 2014 — an attack so violent that it required her to receive facial reconstructive surgery, WKYC reported. Mason, still a judge at the time, was removed from the bench and released from prison after serving nine months of a two-year sentence.
Their two children, then ages 4 and 6, were in the car when the assault took place, according to Cleveland.com. Fraser filed for divorce two days after the incident, though the case is pending. She also sued Mason in civil court and was awarded $150,000.
According to Cleveland.com, Mason wrote in a letter to Fraser as part of his petition for early release that he had “failed as a husband, father, and a man.” The letter also said, “Instead of loving, protecting and providing for you and our daughters, I have provided a terrible example, and exposed you to rage and violence.”
In a statement Saturday evening after Fraser’s slaying, the city of Cleveland acknowledged that it was aware of Mason’s arrest. It added that Mason, who worked for the city as a minority-business development administrator, had been terminated “effective immediately.”
Mason is also a former member of the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives.
"I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Ms. Aisha Fraser, especially to her children,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in the statement. WKYC reports that Jackson hired Mason to his role in 2017.
Fraser’s killing has sent shock waves through the Shaker Heights community as it mourns the loss of an instructor who worked in the school system for more than 16 years. She taught at Woodbury Elementary School at the time of her death, and her two children — now 11 and 8 — were students in the school system.
John Morris, president of the Shaker Heights Teachers' Association, said in an interview Monday that Fraser’s killing has been “devastating” for the city.
“I can’t imagine a more difficult circumstance,” he said, emphasizing the impact on the two young children she leaves behind.
Morris noted that the Shaker Heights community backed Fraser as she overcame the 2014 assault and eventually helped her return to teaching.
“Aisha grew up in Shaker, she was a ’91 graduate, we had survived with her in 2014 and 2015 when the first incident happened,” he said. “Everyone saw her recover and saw her thrive the last few years; to see this happen tore the hearts out of all of us.”
Woodbury Elementary was already closed Monday and Tuesday to hold professional learning days for teachers, said Scott Stephens, spokesman for Shaker Heights schools. Now, all district buildings will be closed on those days to offer grief counseling for staff, students and their families.
“It touches so many people in so many ways, and her life was really a testament to the difference a teacher and an individual can make in the lives of others,” Stephens said in an interview Monday. “She was an extraordinarily talented educator, and wonderful mother, neighbor and friend to so many.”
Morris said Fraser worked diligently to maintain a family environment for her students, especially those with special needs. He added that her consistency and compassion made her a calming presence for everyone she knew.
“When you came into her classroom or saw her in the building, she was never the loudest teacher, but she played this consistent role in her students' lives; she became a touch point,” he said.
He added that she had an infectious smile and a hearty laugh that reverberated from the bottom of her soul.
“She was one of those people that brings light with them,” Morris said. “I can’t imagine what Monday’s going to be like for her kids coming back to the classroom without her.”
Stephens said additional counseling will be offered for Fraser’s students when they return from Thanksgiving break. A substitute teacher with whom her students are familiar will take over the class, he added. Fraser also had an assistant in the classroom who will remain in that position.