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State v. Sullivan

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Preble

June 10, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Appellee,


          Martin P. Votel, Preble County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee

          Samuel D. Borst, for appellant


          PIPER, J.

         {¶ 1} James A. Sullivan appeals the decision of the Preble County Court of Common Pleas, which denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained by police in a search of his vehicle following a traffic stop. For the reasons discussed below, this court affirms the trial court's decision.

         {¶ 2} A Preble County grand jury indicted Sullivan for six felony and misdemeanor drug-related offenses, including aggravated trafficking in methamphetamine, trafficking heroin, possession of heroin, and drug paraphernalia. The charges stemmed from a traffic stop in Eaton, Ohio. During the stop, a drug-sniffing K9 alerted to the odor of narcotics in Sullivan's vehicle. In the subsequent search of the vehicle and its contents, police discovered a large crystal of methamphetamine and a large quantity of heroin located in a locked tool box.

         {¶ 3} Before trial, Sullivan moved to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the stop and search of his vehicle. At the suppression hearing, Officer Luke Baker testified that he was patrolling in his vehicle on November 11, 2017 when he saw Sullivan's vehicle. Officer Baker evidently had previously received information that Sullivan was suspected of drug activity. Part of this information was that Sullivan had been observed coming and going from multiple drug houses carrying a large red tool box and, upon his departure from the various locations, drug activity at the houses increased. From the information received, Officer Baker deduced that Sullivan was using the large red tool box to transport narcotics.

         {¶ 4} Office Baker followed Sullivan's vehicle as it turned onto East Decatur Street. He observed the vehicle approach a stop sign at the intersection of East Decatur and Wayne Avenue. Sullivan's vehicle never came to a complete stop at the intersection and "rolled through" the stop sign as it turned onto Wayne Avenue. Having observed a traffic infraction, Officer Baker activated his lights and pulled over the vehicle.

         {¶ 5} Officer Baker approached Sullivan's vehicle and observed that Sullivan was the driver. He greeted Sullivan because he had had previous contacts with him. Officer Baker also recognized Sullivan's passenger as another individual who frequented drug houses. Officer Baker informed Sullivan of the stop sign violation, and then returned to his patrol vehicle. He requested that dispatch run a check on Sullivan's driver's license information. Officer Baker also requested a K9 officer.

         {¶ 6} A few minutes later, Officer Craig Jones arrived at the traffic stop with his K9, Shadow. Officer Jones testified that he had Shadow perform an exterior drug sniff for narcotics, beginning at the rear passenger side of the car. He further testified that Shadow almost immediately indicated the presence of narcotics, focusing on the seam between the two passenger-side doors.

         {¶ 7} After Shadow's positive indication, Officer Baker removed Sullivan and his passenger from the vehicle to perform a search for narcotics. He located a methamphetamine pipe in the center console. He removed a red tool box, which was locked with a combination lock. The tool box was located behind the driver seat on a folded-down seat. Sullivan told officers he did not know the combination to the lock, but that it was at his home. Officer Jones broke the lock and opened the tool box, locating the contraband.

         {¶ 8} Officer Baker testified that an average traffic stop would last 15 to 18 minutes and involved speaking with the driver, identifying the driver, verifying the driver's license and vehicle registration, and writing and delivering the citation. In this respect, the state submitted a video recording of the traffic stop, captured by a camera mounted in Officer Baker's patrol vehicle ("cruiser cam"). The cruiser cam footage shows that Officer Baker returned to his patrol vehicle approximately one minute and thirty seconds after initially pulling Sullivan over. He then called for K9 support. Officer Jones and Shadow arrived on scene approximately three and one-half minutes after the stop initiated. Shadow performed the drug sniff approximately five minutes after the initial stop.

         {¶ 9} In moving to suppress the evidence, Sullivan argued that Officer Baker lacked probable cause to stop him because the cruiser cam footage showed that he stopped at the stop sign. Sullivan further argued that the footage demonstrated that Shadow did not indicate the presence of drugs. The lower court rejected both arguments, finding that the cruiser cam footage corroborated Officer Baker's testimony that Sullivan rolled through the intersection and that the footage was "neutral" as to whether Shadow indicated i.e., it neither confirmed nor denied that the K9 indicated.

         {¶ 10} Following the court's denial of his motion, Sullivan submitted pleas of "no contest" to the indicted offenses. The court found him guilty and imposed a prison sentence. Sullivan ...

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