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City of Parma Heights v. Brooks

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 6, 2019

CITY OF PARMA HEIGHTS Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER F. BROOKS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Parma Municipal Court Case No. 17 TRD 16991

          Michael D. Pokorny, Parma Heights Director of Law, and Mark A. Schneider, Parma Heights Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Christopher F. Brooks, pro se.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          EILEEN A. GALLAGHER, J.

         {¶ 1} On the morning of November 30, 2017, a Parma Heights police officer observed pro se defendant-appellant Christopher Brooks fail to stop at a stop sign as required by R.C. 4511.43. Following a traffic stop, the officer issued Brooks a citation. The matter proceeded to a bench trial where the city called the officer to testify. Brooks, the only other witness who testified, disputed the officer's account. The trial court found Brooks guilty and imposed a fine of $85 and ordered court costs be paid. Brooks now appeals, asserting five assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred by misinterpreting and/or misapplying R.C. 451143.
2. The trial court erred by disregarding the plain and common sense meaning of the notes contained on [sic] the Complete Traffic Citation issued on November 30, 2017 and by issuing the Final Order notwithstanding the evidence in the record that Appellant did, in fact, stop at the intersection of Pearl Road and Parma Park Boulevard.
3. The trial court erred by disregarding, and/or prohibited [sic] Appellant from introducing evidence of, or the cross-examination of the State's sole witness about, the improper issuance of the traffic citation on November 30, 2017 and the improper stop leading to the same.
4. The trial court erred in denying Appellant the ability to call witnesses.
5. The trial court erred by issuing the Final Order in contravention to [sic] the manifest weight of the evidence.

         For the reasons that follow we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         {¶ 2} During his testimony at trial, the police officer provided his account of the incident. He explained that he was observing traffic from a bank parking lot at the intersection of Pearl Road and Parma Park Boulevard in Parma Heights, Ohio. Specifically, the officer was parked parallel with Pearl Road and facing Parma Park Boulevard. He explained that from this vantage point he had an unobstructed view of the stop sign on Parma Park Boulevard and could see back down Parma Park Boulevard the distance of approximately two car lengths from the stop sign.

         {¶ 3} The officer testified "I was on patrol in that parking lot specifically to watch the stop sign at Parma Park Boulevard and Pearl Road. There is one vehicle which stopped at the stop sign, when that vehicle went through [Brooks] proceeded directly behind it, did not stop at the stop sign." While the officer admitted that from his vantage point he was not able to see the stop line painted on the roadway, he explained that stop lines are "usually immediately just before the stop sign," and further confirmed that Brooks' vehicle did not "stop at the stop sign where it's supposed to."

         {¶ 4} During the officer's cross-examination, Brooks inquired as to notes that the officer recorded on the citation. Specifically, Brooks asked what the officer meant when he noted that Brooks "piggybacked" off of the car in front of him.

         {¶ 5} The officer explained that term was a shorthand description of Brooks' observed behavior at the intersection:

"piggyback" is a term I use personally when I'm writing my notes. It means that when [vehicle number one] stops for a stop sign and there's traffic behind that vehicle, obviously they also have to stop * * * when the vehicle, vehicle number one goes through the stop sign the vehicles behind them follow it straight out.

         The officer further explained, "[b]ecause I wrote the term 'piggybacking,' I'm going to say it was pretty much continuous that Mr. Brooks just continued to follow straight through the stop sign."

         {¶ 6} Brooks testified on his own behalf and, during his narrative testimony, he stated that he stopped twice on Parma Park Boulevard as he approached the stop sign, which was consistent with the officer's testimony to that point. Brooks' testimony, however, diverged from the officer's as he insisted that he stopped a third time before proceeding through the intersection. Brooks alternatively argued that R.C. 4511.43 only required him to stop once and that he satisfied this when he stopped on his approach to the intersection.

         {¶ 7} The trial court asked Brooks clarifying questions about his account:

The Court: Okay, okay, just wait a minute. So the first two cars were already at the intersection, that's what you recall?
Brooks: Yes Your Honor.
The Court: You then come up on them, just to walk through, you then stop behind the two cars?
Brooks: Yes Your Honor.
The Court: Okay. Then the first car headed right or left or straight, don't matter, headed out, the car in front of you then stopped at some vicinity of a stop sign.
Brooks: Yes Your Honor.
The Court: You then stopped behind ...

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