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State v. Cookingham

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula

October 30, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THOMAS D. COOKINGHAM, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court, Western District, Case No. 2016 CRB 00204W Judgment: Affirmed.

          Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, and Shelley M. Pratt, Assistant Prosecutor, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Wesley A. Johnston, Eric Hall, (For Defendant-Appellant).

          OPINION

          DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Thomas D. Cookingham, appeals from his convictions for Aggravated Menacing, Resisting Arrest, Obstructing Official Business, Disorderly Conduct, and Possession of Marijuana in the Ashtabula County Court, Western District. The issues to be determined in this case are whether convictions are supported by the weight and sufficiency of the evidence when they rely primarily on the testimony of the officers who witnessed the crimes, and whether trial counsel is ineffective by choosing to pursue a bench trial, failing to move for acquittal, and not presenting witnesses for the defense. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the lower court.

         {¶2} On March 15, 2016, a Complaint was filed, charging Cookingham with two counts of Aggravated Menacing, misdemeanors of the first degree, in violation of R.C. 2903.21(A); Resisting Arrest, a misdemeanor of the second degree, in violation of R.C. 2921.33(A); Obstructing Official Business, a misdemeanor of the second degree, in violation of R.C. 2921.31(A); Disorderly Conduct, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree, in violation of R.C. 2917.11(A)(1); and Possession of Marijuana, a minor misdemeanor, in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A).

         {¶3} A bench trial was held on February 28, 2017, during which the following testimony was presented:

         {¶4} Deputy Evan Wolff of the Ashtabula County Sheriffs Office was dispatched to a home in Geneva Township on March 5, 2016, where a "disturbance" had been reported by Cookingham's brother. Upon arrival, he observed Cookingham, whom he recognized from past incidents, standing in the driveway. After Wolff exited his patrol car, Cookingham began yelling and cursing at him, saying "what the [expletive] are you doing here? No one called you." Wolff remained behind his car door due to Cookingham's upset and agitated demeanor, and tried to speak with him. At one point, Cookingham adopted a stance that Wolff viewed as threatening, and hid his hand from Wolffs view. Wolff gave Cookingham repeated orders to show his hands but Cookingham did not comply.

         {¶5} Deputy Matthew Johns arrived at the scene simultaneously with Wolff, after receiving a dispatch that Cookingham was acting aggressively, threatening people, and was possibly under the influence of drugs. After Wolff was unsuccessful, Johns attempted to use de-escalation skills to calm Cookingham, but he began "to act physically aggressive." Cookingham started to walk toward a vehicle in the driveway with an open door and Johns feared he may be "going to retrieve a weapon." He told Cookingham he was under arrest and tried to handcuff him. Cookingham "physically resisted to the point where [Johns] was unable to control him physically." Wolff described that Cookingham "began to flail and try to spin out of [their] grasp." According to Johns, Cookingham's arm "brushed against" his duty weapon and he took Cookingham to the ground to get better control.

         {¶6} According to both deputies, a search of Cookingham was performed incident to arrest, which revealed two containers. One contained burnt marijuana cigarettes, from which the odor of marijuana could be smelled. In another container, there was a substance that both officers recognized to be marijuana.

         {¶7} Both officers testified that Johns "tapped the contents of the containers" onto the hood of the police cruiser, at which time Cookingham "blew it off of the hood" and onto the gravel driveway, where much of it could not be collected. Johns testified that the marijuana cigarettes were not submitted to the lab since they would not be accepted for testing.

         {¶8} According to Wolff, after Cookingham was arrested, he threatened to kill Wolff and his family and rape his wife and kids. Wolff took those threats "very seriously" and felt that he and his family were in harm's way.

         {¶9} Johns testified that once Cookingham was placed in the cruiser he also threatened to kill Johns and his family, as well as rape his wife. Cookingham said he had prior experience killing someone. Johns conceded that his police report did not contain all statements Cookingham made, but testified that Cookingham had used detail to describe raping his wife and physically restraining his children while molesting them. Johns is still fearful that Cookingham may harm his family.

         {¶10} Following the trial, Cookingham was found guilty of all counts. The court sentenced him to terms of 180 days in jail for both counts of Aggravated Menacing, 90 days for Resisting Arrest, 30 days for Obstructing Official Business, and 30 days for Disorderly Conduct. All ...


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