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City of Parma v. Odolecki

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 25, 2017

CITY OF PARMA PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
DOUGLAS E. ODOLECKI DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

         Criminal Appeal from the Parma Municipal Court Case Nos. 2014 CRB 02839 and 2015 CRB 30555

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT John W. Gold

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Timothy G. Dobeck Law Director By: L. Christopher Frey John Spellacy Assistant City Prosecutors

          BEFORE: Laster Mays, J., Boyle, P.J., and Celebrezze, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          ANITA LASTER MAYS, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Douglas E. Odolecki ("Odolecki"), appeals his convictions for violation of municipal ordinances for two counts of obstructing official business, and one count each of disorderly conduct and misconduct at the scene of an emergency. Odolecki was sentenced to a total of 240 days in jail. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand.

         I. Background and Facts

         {¶2} Odolecki purports to be a journalist and law enforcement accountability activist who operates under the name Greater Cleveland Cop Block. Odolecki was cited for two separate incidents, and both incidents involved Odolecki's cell phone recording of police activities. There is also police dashcam video evidence for the OVI checkpoint.

         A. June 13, 2014 - OVI Checkpoint

         {¶3} On June 13, 2014, the city of Parma Police Department ("Parma PD") was conducting an OVI checkpoint near the intersection of State and Tuxedo Roads in the city of Parma. Odolecki stood on the sidewalk at the intersection of Brookpark and State Roads, a few blocks north of the checkpoint, holding a sign reading "Checkpoint Ahead -Turn Now" and periodically vocally warning drivers. The Parma PD asserts that several vehicles altered their course to avoid turning onto Brookpark toward the checkpoint area due to Odolecki's activities.

         {¶4} Two officers approached Odolecki and informed him that the purpose of the OVI checkpoint was to educate the public of the dangers of drinking and driving, and that pursuant to advice from their law department, Odolecki could remain at the location with the sign, but must remove the words "turn now." Odolecki refused and was arrested for obstructing official business, Parma Codified Ordinances ("PCO") 606.14.

         B. July 29, 2015 - Emergency Scene

         {¶5} On July 29, 2015, Odolecki was riding his bicycle over the traffic and pedestrian bridge over a wooded ravine on Snow Road approaching the intersection at South Park Road. As Odolecki crossed the bridge, he observed two police vehicles and three police motorcycles with emergency lights activated in a small, park-like area just past the end of the bridge on the other side of the street, to his left. Police were responding to a 911 call from a mother advising that her 17-year-old autistic son was attempting to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge.

         {¶6} A young man, approximately six-foot three inches tall and 300 pounds, was sitting on a guard rail and several officers were speaking with him. The young man's mother and her three young daughters, each under eight years of age, were also at the scene. Odolecki began recording the encounter with his cellular telephone from the other side of the street.

         {¶7} Odolecki then crossed the street and began recording directly adjacent to the scene. An officer advised Odolecki that the young man was having a "bad day" and asked if he could "do that another time." Odolecki responded that he could not. Police Sgt. Gillissie approached Odolecki and asked that Odolecki remove himself. Odolecki responded that he was in a public place, and alleges that he was physically contacted by Sgt. Gillissie.

         {¶8} Odolecki moved across the street to the adjacent corner, loudly commenting on the police activities, including the statements, "this guy likes to violate peoples' rights" and "say hello to Youtube motherf**ker." Sgt. Gillissie yelled across the street that Odolecki was offending small children and was again warned about a disorderly conduct charge. Odolecki responded that "you're offending people with your presence."

         {¶9} Odolecki was arrested and cited for (1) obstructing official business (PCO 606.14), (2) disorderly conduct (PCO 606.14), and (3) misconduct at the scene of an emergency (PCO 648.07). Officers stated Odolecki interfered with their ability to do their jobs, because the young man was suicidal and autistic. Police were required to leave the crisis response situation to address Odolecki's actions.

         C. Trial

         {¶10} The cases were consolidated for trial. After a jury trial, Odolecki was convicted of all counts and sentenced to a 240-day jail term. The instant appeal followed.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶11} Odolecki advances 11 assignments of error:

I. Appellant's conviction for obstruction of official business on June 13, 2014 was against the manifest weight of the evidence because the act of holding a sign warning motorists of a nearby OVI checkpoint does not hamper or impede the operation of that checkpoint.
II. Appellant's conviction for obstruction of official business was against the manifest weight of the evidence because the act of holding a sign on a street corner that reads "DUI checkpoint ahead - turn now" is speech protected by the First Amendment, entitling appellant to the affirmative defense of privilege.
III. The trial court abused its discretion when it excluded evidence that appellant was exercising his privilege to protest against the city of Parma's unconstitutional OVI checkpoint scheme and such error was not harmless because it deprived appellant of the opportunity to establish an affirmative defense.
IV. The appellant's conviction for obstruction of official business, misconduct at the scene of an emergency and disorderly conduct on July 29, 2015 was against the manifest weight of the evidence because act of filming the city of Parma police in the performance of their duties is conduct protected by the First Amendment entitling appellant to the affirmative defense of privilege.
V. The city of Parma failed to prove the mens rea condition of misconduct at the scene of an emergency.
VI. The city of Parma failed to prove that Mr. Odolecki engaged in meddlesome or osteperous conduct at the scene of an emergency.
VII. Mr. Odolecki's conviction for misconduct at the scene of an emergency must be reversed because as a journalist he is exempt from the statute's application.
VIII. Telling the city of Parma police to say hello to Youtube motherf**ker is speech protected by the First Amendment and entitles appellant to the affirmative defense of privilege as it pertains to his convictions for obstruction of official business, misconduct at the scene of an emergency and disorderly conduct on July 29, 2015.
IX. The trial court committed reversible error when it denied appellant's Rule 29 motion for acquittal at the close of the city's case in chief.
X. The trial court abused its discretion when it admitted video from incidents involving persons other than appellant which had no connection to the events at issue for the purpose of proving intent pursuant to Evid.R. 404(B).
XI. The trial court abused its discretion when it imposed consecutive sentences without making statutorily mandated findings in support thereof and advocated for the use of violence against the appellant.

         III. Law and Analysis

         A. Sufficiency and Manifest Weight of the Evidence

         {¶12} The crux of Odolecki's arguments in assigned errors I through IX is that his convictions are against the manifest weight and sufficiency of the evidence. We combine those errors for analysis.

         {¶13} "A claim that a conviction is unsupported by sufficient evidence tests whether the state has met its burden of production at trial." State v. Rudd, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 102754, 2016-Ohio-106, ¶ 32, citing State v. Hunter, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 86048, 2006-Ohio-20, ¶ 41, citing Thompkins at 390. The question is not whether the prosecution's evidence "is to be believed, but whether, if believed, the evidence admitted at trial supported the conviction." Rudd at ¶ 32, citing State v. Starks, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 91682, 2009-Ohio-3375, ¶ 25. The court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether "'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Leonard, 104 Ohio St.3d 54, 2004-Ohio-6235, 818 N.E.2d 229, ¶ 77, quoting State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991), paragraph two of the syllabus.

         {¶14} In entertaining a manifest weight challenge, we sit as a thirteenth juror and intercede only where it is apparent that "a jury has 'lost its way.'" State v. Stewart, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 86411, 2006-Ohio-813, ¶ 11, quoting State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 387, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997). The weight-of-the-evidence standard "addresses the evidence's effect of inducing belief." Rudd at ¶ 61, quoting State v. Wilson, 113 Ohio St.3d 382, 2007-Ohio-2202, 865 N.E.2d 1264, ¶ 25, citing Thompkins at 386-387.

         1. June 13, 2014 - Obstruction of Official Business

         {¶15} PCO 606.14 parrots R.C. 2921.31:[1]

(a) No person, without privilege to do so and with purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay the performance by a public official of any authorized act within the public official's official capacity, shall do any act that hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of the public official's lawful duties.
(b) Whoever violates this section is guilty of obstructing official business. Except as otherwise provided in this division, obstructing official business is a misdemeanor of the second degree. If a violation of this section creates a risk of physical harm to any person, obstructing official business is a felony to be prosecuted under appropriate state law. (R.C. 2921.31)

         {¶16} Odolecki argues that the Parma PD failed to prove the requisite elements of the ordinance. We recently addressed the elements of obstruction:

Obstructing official business as defined in R.C. 2921.31(A) has five essential elements: "'(1) an act by the defendant, (2) done with the purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay a public official, (3) that actually hampers or impedes a public official, (4) while the official is acting in the performance of a lawful duty, and (5) the defendant so acts without privilege.'" Brooklyn v. Kaczor, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 98816, 2013-Ohio-2901, ¶ 7, quoting State v. Kates,169 Ohio App.3d 766, 2006-Ohio-6779, 865 N.E.2d 66, ¶ 21 (10th Dist.). See also State v. Dice, 3d Dist. ...

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