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City of Girard v. Oakman

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull

March 30, 2018

CITY OF GIRARD, Plaintiff-Appellee,
GARY L. OAKMAN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Girard Municipal Court, Case No. 2017 CRB 00252.

          Michael E. Bloom, Girard City Prosecutor, Girard Municipal Court, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Michael A. Partlow, and Sarah Thomas Kovoor, Ford, Gold, Kovoor & Simon, Ltd., (For Defendant-Appellant).



         {¶1} Appellant, Gary L. Oakman, appeals his conviction for obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor under R.C. 2921.31(A). Besides challenging the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence, he maintains that he was denied a fair trial because his trial counsel was not afforded ample time to prepare for trial. Upon reviewing the record, we reverse and remand.

         {¶2} As of February 11, 2017, appellant and his wife lived at 1037 East Liberty Street, Liberty Township, Trumbull County, Ohio. The couple had only been married for approximately eighteen months, and his wife had at least one adult child from an earlier relationship. At that time, appellant had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and was the owner of three firearms, at least two of which he kept in the home's main bedroom.

         {¶3} On the date in question, the couple learned that a friend of the wife's son had died from a drug overdose the day before. Due to the sad news, the couple began drinking alcoholic beverages that evening, and soon became embroiled in an argument. During the confrontation, appellant knocked over a lamp in the living room and kicked a piece of furniture toward his wife. Although appellant did not hit his wife, he did attempt to take her cell phone away from her, claiming that she had been communicating with her ex-boyfriend.

         {¶4} At some point during the altercation, the wife was able to lock herself in a spare bedroom. When appellant continued to yell that he wanted to see her phone, she called the Liberty Township Police Department for help. Before the police could arrive, appellant calmed down, went into the main bedroom, and locked the door. As a result, the wife was able to exit the spare bedroom and meet the police in the home's garage.

         {¶5} Officer Robert Altier was one of the two policemen who responded to the wife's call. As part of his uniform that evening, Officer Altier wore a "dash" camera that made both a visual and audio recording of his encounter with the wife and appellant. A transcript of the audio recording was accepted into evidence at trial.

         {¶6} During their initial conversation in the garage, the wife confirmed to Officer Altier that appellant had been drinking and was locked inside the main bedroom where he kept multiple firearms. Upon leading Officer Altier to the bedroom door, the wife was eventually able to convince appellant to open the door and speak to the officers. Once the door was open, appellant and the wife immediately began to yell at each other; thus, the officers decided to take the two individuals into different rooms and speak with them separately. While the second officer took the wife to the kitchen, Officer Altier followed appellant back into the main bedroom.

         {¶7} Upon entering the room, Officer Altier observed that there were no lights on, and immediately asked appellant where the light switch was. Appellant responded that the lights were controlled by a remote and began to search for that remote on the bed. The officer then asked if there were any guns in the room. Appellant gave a very confusing response to this question and continued to walk around the foot of the bed, appearing as if he was still looking for the "light" remote. Once appellant got around the corner of the bed, to where the width of the bed was between him and Officer Altier, he took steps toward a nightstand that was located near the far wall.

         {¶8} In response to appellant's movements, Officer Altier pointed his flashlight on the nightstand and quickly saw a firearm sitting on top, in plain view. Therefore, the officer pulled his own weapon from its holster, pointed it at appellant, and ordered him to keep away from the firearm. Appellant did not stop immediately and continued toward the firearm with his hand extending forward, causing the officer to yell his command to stay away three more times. Ultimately, appellant did stop, but not before his hand was only six to eight inches away from the firearm. He then put his hands up in the air and backed away.

         {¶9} In light of the foregoing incident, appellant was immediately placed under arrest and charged with domestic violence. However, approximately one month after the incident, that charge was dismissed, and Officer Altier executed a new complaint charging appellant with obstructing official business under R.C. 2921.31(A). On March 15, 2017, appellant made his initial appearance before the trial court, entering a plea of not guilty to the sole charge. According to the trial court, as part of that proceeding, an agreement was reached that appellant's trial would be held on March 29, and that the trial would be before a jury if appellant filed a timely request.

         {¶10} On the same day as the initial appearance, the clerk for the trial court sent a notice to both sides regarding the scheduled proceeding for March 29, 2017. Instead of stating that appellant's trial would be held on March 29, though, the notice indicated that the matter was set for a pretrial conference at that time. The mailing of the notice was noted by the clerk on the "Public Docket Information" sheet for the case.

         {¶11} During the fourteen-day interim period between the initial appearance and the scheduled proceeding for March 29, 2017, appellant's trial counsel did not submit a request for a jury trial. One day before that scheduled proceeding, the clerk for the trial court issued a new notice stating that appellant's trial would go forward on March 29. A copy of this notice was faxed to defense counsel's office.

         {¶12} A bench trial was held on the scheduled date. At the beginning of the trial, defense counsel moved for a continuance on the basis that her client would be denied a fair trial because one day was insufficient time to prepare for trial. In essence, counsel asserted that, since the clerk's original notice had stated that a pretrial conference was scheduled for the March 29 date, she had not taken all necessary steps to prepare for trial, including the filing of a jury demand. After the state responded, the trial court orally denied the continuance request. As the primary basis for its decision, the court quoted from a transcript of the March 15, 2017 initial appearance. In the quote, the court stated that, in light of statements made by both attorneys, the case would be scheduled for trial on March 29, 2017.

         {¶13} Officer Altier and appellant were the only two witnesses at trial. As part of their respective questioning of the witnesses, both the prosecutor and defense counsel tried to play the audio recording of the dash camera worn by Officer Altier the evening of the incident. However, certain difficulties arose in playing the recording; as a result, the trial court gave defense counsel an extension of time in which to submit a transcript of the audio recording. Once filed, the transcript was considered as evidence.

         {¶14} In its written judgment, the trial court found that, by moving toward the gun on the nightstand and then not immediately stopping when so ordered by Officer Altier, appellant had purposely hampered or impeded both police officers in their investigation of the alleged domestic violence. Accordingly, the court found him guilty of the charged offense. After holding a separate sentencing hearing, the court sentenced appellant to thirty days in jail, but suspended twenty-seven of the days. The court also placed him on probation for one year.

         {¶15} On appeal, appellant raises three ...

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