Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull
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).
CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, J.,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
On appeal, appellant raises three ...