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State v. Stengel

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Fairfield

June 8, 2018

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
EVAN M. STENGEL Defendant-Appellant

          Criminal appeal from the Fairfield Municipal Court, Case No. TRC 1611830A

          For Plaintiff-Appellee TAMAS TABOR Assistant Prosecutor

          For Defendant-Appellant THOMAS EWING

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J. Hon. Earle E. Wise, J.


          GWIN, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant Evan M. Stengel ["Stengel"] appeals his conviction and sentence after a negotiated plea of no contest in the Fairfield County Municipal Court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} On November 4, 2016, Thomas Bolden, an employee working at Tiki Bowling Lanes, reported a motor vehicle accident to law enforcement. The accident had occurred outside the bowling alley approximately fifteen minutes prior to Bolden's report.

         {¶3} Officer Eric Spiegel from the Lancaster Police Department arrived and observed a fire hydrant broken off at the base, a damaged street sign pole, and tire tracks leading away from the scene. Officer Spiegel discovered debris from a vehicle located around the damaged hydrant and around the entrance to a nearby apartment complex. Officer Spiegel collected several pieces of debris, including plastic parts of a vehicle's headlights, side mirrors, and bumper. Thomas Bolden had informed the 9-1-1 operator that the person who had knocked on the door of the bowling alley to report the accident had advised that the suspect vehicle's last known direction of travel was towards the nearby apartment complex.

         {¶4} Both of the officers were equipped with body cameras; however, Officer Spiegel's camera malfunctioned. The events were recorded in real time on Officer Howell's camera. State's Exhibit A.

         {¶5} Officer Spiegel and Officer Jared Howell located a vehicle with heavy front-end damage, a broken headlight, a broken mirror, and a broken bumper, parked outside the apartment complex. Law enforcement matched the broken edges on some of the parts found at the scene of the accident, with the missing parts on the damaged vehicle in the parking lot. The officers indicated that the vehicle was still warm to the touch, despite the cold temperature that evening. Officer Spiegel opined that the vehicle must have been driven within the preceding hour to maintain that level of warmth in relation to the air temperature. Law enforcement then ran the license plate on the damaged vehicle and it returned to Stengel whose listed address was 1526 Courtship Drive, one of the apartments in front of the parked vehicle. Given the heavy damage to the vehicle, law enforcement was concerned about the driver's well-being and attempted to contact Stengel at his nearby address.

         {¶6} The officers went to the apartment knocked and announced their presence for approximately ten minutes. There were two entrances to the apartment where Stengel resided; a front door and a rear sliding glass door. Officer Spiegel approached the front door while Officer Howell took up a position at the rear of the apartment to make sure that no one escaped from the back door.

         {¶7} While knocking, the officers heard the sound of a firearm being loaded coming from the open window of an upstairs bedroom. Per their training, the officers drew their firearms, held them at "low ready, " i.e. not pointed at any person, but out, and ready to be brought up if necessary. Officer Spiegel was able to make verbal and visual contact with a female through an upstairs window and identified himself as a police officer. In response to Officer Spiegel's request, the female came downstairs and opened the front door. An adult male accompanied her.

         {¶8} The female identified herself as Chrisha Stengel, Stengel's sister, and the male, was Ms. Stengel's fiancé Christopher Meyer. Both individuals came to the front door and spoke with officers. At some point during the discussion, the officers holstered their weapons.

         {¶9} Christopher explained to Spiegel that he had loaded his rifle because he thought someone was trying to break into the apartment. The following exchange then occurred:

OFFICER SPIEGEL: I was knocking profusely. I need to talk to Evan.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: And I need to know that he's not coming down with a gun.
MS. STENGEL: Oh, no, he doesn't own a gun.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: It doesn't matter, there is a gun in the house.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: Which you said so and it's loaded. I need for him to come down (inaudible) without any weapon. Okay?
MS. STENGEL: I tried to wake him up. He's not waking up.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: Is he your roommate?
MS. STENGEL: No, he's my brother. My little brother.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: Your little brother wrecked his car tonight. (Inaudible) car. Okay. And we're here to try to make contact with him. And when we hear a weapon being loaded, we get a little nervous.
OFFICER SPIEGEL: And so I need your permission to go inside to make contact with Evan.
MS. STENGEL: Yes. Can we put the little dog up?

         T. Motion to Suppress, May 17, 2017 at 39-40.

         {¶10} Officers entered the home, followed Mr. Meyer up the stairs, and watched him secure the firearm, which he had previously loaded. Mr. Meyer then directed officers to Stengel's room. It is unclear whether the bedroom door was open, closed, or ajar when law enforcement reached it. Law enforcement entered Stengel's room to check on him.

         {¶11} Both officers entered the bedroom and found Stengel asleep. The lights were off, so the officers illuminated the bedroom with their flashlights. The officers roused Stengel and asked him if he was injured in the crash, and ensured he was unarmed. After ensuring Stengel was not in need of medical attention and that he did not have any passengers with him when he crashed, Officer Spiegel advised Stengel of his Miranda warnings. Stengel was advised of his Miranda rights by Officer Spiegel who stated, "All right. I'm going to read you something just so I can say I did." T. Motion to Suppress, May 17, 2017 at 52. After advising Stengel of his right to remain silent and the fact that anything he said would be used against him in a court of law, Officer Spiegel asked Stengel if he understood. Stengel replied, "Some of it." Officer Spiegel proceeded to advise Stengel of his additional Miranda rights. After Officer Spiegel completed the advisement of Miranda rights, he asked, "Would you talk to us about the accident?"

         {¶12} Stengel then proceeded to answer questions from Officer Spiegel and made a number of incriminating statements regarding his involvement in the accident and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Stengel was eventually taken outside the apartment where Officer Howell conducted standardized field sobriety tests. Howell observed four clues on the ...

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