Judge rejects ex-restaurant owner Eva Christian’s release from Butler County Jail

Former local restaurant owner Eva Christian’s state prison sentence has been declared over by a judge, but her future remains uncertain.

A federal judge has refused to release former Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian from the Butler County Jail, ruling that Christian’s claim that she has severe asthma and thus a heightened risk of dying from COVID-19 while behind bars was unsubstantiated.

Christian, the former owner of Café Boulevard in Dayton’s Oregon District and of Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in front of the Dayton Mall in Miami Twp., has been incarcerated at the Butler County Jail since September 2020, after she had just completed an eight-year sentence in state prison for her conviction on multiple insurance fraud-related charges.

Although she has lived in the U.S. for decades, Christian is not an American citizen. She was born in Croatia and raised in Germany, and has German citizenship. Because of her felony convictions, she is being held in the Butler County Jail by order of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, possibly until a federal immigration judge decides whether she will be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.

In her request to be released from jail immediately — filed by Dayton attorney Karen Denise Bradley on Christian’s behalf — Christian, 52, said she had been diagnosed with chronic asthma and had been treated for the condition since 2014. She said her confinement in the Butler County Jail increases her likelihood of contracting COVID-19, which, due to her asthma, could lead to “severe injury or death,” Bradley wrote in her petition to U.S. District Court. Her incarceration and increased risk of disease and death means that her Fifth Amendment rights of due process are being violated, and she should be released immediately, according to Christian and her attorney.

Eva Christian in her Oregon District restaurant Cafe Boulevard in 2009. A federal judge has rejected the former Dayton restaurant owner's claim that her asthma and heightened CODID-19 risk should free her from the Butler County Jail, where she is being held at the request of federal immigration authorities. File photo by Jim Witmer
Eva Christian in her Oregon District restaurant Cafe Boulevard in 2009. A federal judge has rejected the former Dayton restaurant owner's claim that her asthma and heightened CODID-19 risk should free her from the Butler County Jail, where she is being held at the request of federal immigration authorities. File photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: for USA TODAY

Credit: for USA TODAY

But in a decision handed down Friday, March 12, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz rejected the request, ruling that Christian “has not established that she has an enhanced risk of death of severe illness from COVID-19.

“While she pleads that she has severe asthma,” Merz wrote, there was no evidence submitted to support the claim. In addition, Merz said in his ruling, Christian “has not established that being confined in the Butler County Jail has significantly increased her risk of contracting the disease.”

Christian was convicted in May 2012 of five criminal counts after masterminding a scheme to hire others in 2009 to set her Dayton Mall restaurant, Cena, on fire, and later trying to set it on fire herself, and of staging a break-in at her Washington Twp. residence, all in order to collect insurance money.

Christian founded and owned the now-defunct Cafe Boulevard (later Boulevard Haus) for nearly 15 years in Dayton’s Oregon District, in space that now houses Lily’s Dayton. Even if she is ultimately released from her immigration-related incarceration, Christian still owes restitution of more than $73,000 to two insurance companies, and may be subject to post-release control by the state parole board, according to now-retired Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman, who presided over Christian’s state-court trial and sentencing.

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