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State v. Sanderson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

September 6, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JUSTIN SANDERSON Defendant-Appellant

          (Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court) Trial Court Case No. 2017-CR-2588

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., BY ANDREW T. FRENCH, ATTY. REG. NO. 0069384, ASSISTANT PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, APPELLATE DIVISION, MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURTS ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

          BEN M. SWIFT, ATTY. REG. NO. 0065745, ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

          OPINION

          DONOVAN, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Justin Sanderson appeals his conviction and sentence for the following offenses: three counts of rape, in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(2), all felonies of the first degree; seven counts of sexual battery, in violation of R.C. 2907.03(A)(6), all felonies of the third degree; two counts of gross sexual imposition (GSI) in violation of R.C. 2907.05(A)(1), both felonies of the fourth degree; two counts of kidnapping, in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(4), both felonies of the first degree; one count of aggravated burglary, in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(2), a felony of the first degree; and four counts of interfering with civil rights, in violation of R.C. 2921.45(A), all misdemeanors of the first degree. Each count of kidnapping was accompanied by a sexual motivation specification pursuant to R.C. 2941.147. Sanderson filed a timely notice of appeal with this Court on October 2, 2018.

         {¶ 2} The record establishes that in the late spring of 2015, Sanderson began working as a security officer at a company called G4S. Mark Wysong testified that he was the owner of G4S and that he hired Sanderson. Wysong testified that he was also the Chief of the Phillipsburg Police Department (hereinafter "PPD"). In November 2015, Wysong hired Sanderson as a part-time police officer at the PPD. The offenses for which Sanderson was arrested and later convicted occurred during a six-week period in 2017 while he was employed as a police officer in Phillipsburg.

         Events of May 19-20, 2017

         {¶ 3} The record establishes that late on the night of May 19, 2017, K.W., 22 years old, was driving back to her residence in Greenville, Ohio, after a night spent with friends in the Oregon District in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Sometime after midnight on May 20, 2017, Sanderson initiated a traffic stop of K.W. as she traveled on State Route 49. K.W. testified that she was very anxious upon being pulled over as she had been drinking alcohol and did not have a driver's license. After K.W. informed Sanderson that she did not have a driver's license, he removed her from the vehicle, handcuffed her with her hands behind her back, and placed her in the rear of his cruiser.

         {¶ 4} Sanderson drove K.W. to the Phillipsburg Municipal Building, where the police station is also located. K.W. testified that there was no one else present at the police station and most of the lights had been turned off when they arrived. K.W. testified that Sanderson had her perform a single field sobriety test, the "walk and turn." K.W. remained handcuffed while she performed the test. Sanderson informed K.W. that she failed the test and asked her what he "should do about what was going on." Tr. 444. K.W. testified that at this point she was crying and very frightened because she thought she was going to jail. K.W. testified that she was also confused because Sanderson was asking her how he should handle the situation.

         {¶ 5} Sanderson asked K.W. if he could pat her down. K.W. testified that Sanderson stood behind her and started to pat her down. K.W. testified that Sanderson then pulled up her dress, pulled down her shorts and underwear, and started kissing her buttock. Thereafter, Sanderson directed a still-handcuffed K.W. to sit on the edge of a desk. Once K.W. sat down, Sanderson began performing oral sex on her. K.W. testified that Sanderson then bent her over the desk and inserted his penis into her vagina from behind. K.W. testified that Sanderson removed his clothes and took off her dress. Sanderson then carried her into another room in the station and continued having vaginal intercourse with her on the floor.

         {¶ 6} The sexual assault ended a short time later, and Sanderson and K.W. got dressed. K.W. testified that Sanderson then transported her back to where she left her vehicle. Sanderson also told K.W. to follow him back to her residence in Greenville so that she would not get pulled over by any other police officers patrolling the area. While she was driving from Phillipsburg to her home in Greenville, K.W. called her mother, T.M., on her cellphone. K.W. informed T.M. that she had been pulled over in Phillipsburg on the way to the residence they shared and had been raped by a police officer. K.W. also informed T.M. that the officer who had raped her was following her home. T.M. testified that during their conversation, K.W. sounded very upset and was crying.

         {¶ 7} When they arrived at K.W.'s residence, Sanderson stopped his cruiser at the end of her driveway and asked her for her phone number. K.W. testified that she felt compelled to give Sanderson her phone number because she was in shock from being assaulted and because she was scared that Sanderson might attempt to arrest her for driving while intoxicated and driving without a driver's license. After K.W. got home, T.M. looked out the window and observed a police cruiser parked at the end of the driveway.

         Events of June 2-3, 2017

         {¶ 8} On the evening of June 2, 2017, T.B. attended a pool party at a friend's residence in Huber Heights, Ohio. T.B. left the party at approximately 11:30 p.m. T.B. testified that she observed a Phillipsburg police cruiser parked on the side of State Route 49 shortly after midnight near her residence. T.B. testified that she arrived at her residence and had been inside approximately ten minutes when she heard a knock on her front door. When she answered the door, she observed Sanderson, whom she recognized as a Phillipsburg police officer. Sanderson asked T.B. for her name. T.B. testified that Sanderson then asked her if she was aware that her husband had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. T.B. informed Sanderson that she was aware of the warrant for her husband for unpaid fines levied by Vandalia Municipal Court, but that he was currently at work.

         {¶ 9} T.B. testified that at this point, Sanderson informed her that she also had an outstanding warrant for her arrest.[1] T.B. testified that she told Sanderson that she was unaware of any warrant and asked him to produce documentation confirming that a warrant existed. Sanderson replied, "Well get to that." Tr. 554. Sanderson then told T.B. to pull out her bra, and he proceeded to pat her down under her shirt. T.B. testified that Sanderson also pulled on her belt loop and asked her if she was wearing any underwear. At this point, Sanderson placed T.B. in handcuffs behind her back and led her out to his police cruiser. Before leaving, T.B. asked Sanderson if she could retrieve her cellphone, but he told her not to worry because they would be returning to her residence at a later time. Sanderson then placed T.B. in the back of his cruiser and drove to the police station.

         {¶ 10} Upon arriving at the station, T.B. again asked Sanderson to produce documentation regarding the alleged warrant. Sanderson stated that he would try to locate the warrant, and he left T.B. sitting in a room for a short time. T.B. testified that when Sanderson came back, he removed her handcuffs and began patting her down again. T.B. testified that she believed it was a great deal more intrusive than was necessary. T.B. testified that Sanderson pulled on her bra and began touching her breasts. T.B. testified that she tried to pull away, and Sanderson stopped and sat down in a chair facing her. T.B. testified that at this point, she was crying and praying out loud. Sanderson told T.B. to calm down and stated "jails not that bad, it's not that scary." Tr. 571. Sanderson then left the room again.

         {¶ 11} When Sanderson returned, he handcuffed T.B. again. T.B. testified that she was very scared at this point and told Sanderson "just take me to jail." Tr. 573. Sanderson asked T.B., "What do you suggest?" Id. T.B. testified that she asked, "Suggest for what?" Sanderson replied, "To make this go away." Id. Sanderson also told T.B. "you may not realize how hot you are." Tr. 576. Sanderson then ordered T.B. to stand up and turn around. Sanderson stood behind her and began running his hands down her and around to the front of her body. T.B. testified that he grabbed her breasts, unbuttoned the top of her shorts, and stuck his hand down her pants. T.B. testified that Sanderson then digitally penetrated her vagina, and she pulled away, stating "she was not that kind of girl" and to "just take her to jail." Tr. 578.

         {¶ 12} At this point, Sanderson placed T.B. back in his cruiser and drove her back to her residence. Before letting her out of the cruiser, Sanderson told T.B. to resolve the outstanding warrant. Sanderson also told her that he would check on the status of the warrant the next time he was on duty, and if had not been resolved, he would come back. T.B. exited the cruiser and ran into her residence. Once inside, she locked the door and called her husband to inform him of what had happened.

         {¶ 13} T.B. testified that Sanderson came to her residence the following week on Friday, June 9, 2017, at approximately 11:30 p.m. T.B. testified that she was at home with her daughter at the time. Sanderson informed T.B. that he was aware that she had resolved her warrant. T.B. testified that she told Sanderson to never return to her residence for any reason, and that she would call the Clay Township Police or the Montgomery County Sheriff if he did.

         Events of June 27-28, 2017

         {¶ 14} K.T. and T.U. were prostitutes who advertised their services as a duo on an internet site called Backpage.com. T.U. created the advertisement. On June 27, 2017, a male identifying himself as "Slick Johnson" responded to T.U.'s advertisement and sent a photograph of himself as well. The man in the photograph was identified by K.T. and T.U. as Sanderson. In his response to the advertisement, Sanderson offered the two women $160 for their services and agreed to meet them at the Knights Inn hotel in Vandalia, Ohio, in Room 165.

         {¶ 15} While he was in uniform and on patrol duty that night, Sanderson traveled in his cruiser from Phillipsburg to the Knights Inn in Vandalia. Upon arriving at the hotel, Sanderson went to the front desk and placed a pair of handcuffs on the counter in front of the clerk, H.P. H.P. testified that Sanderson asked for the key to Room 165. Sanderson informed H.P. that he was conducting a "prostitution investigation." H.P. testified that he did not want to disobey an order from a uniformed police officer, so he gave Sanderson the hotel's master key.

         {¶ 16} Sanderson went to Room 165 and knocked on the door. K.T. testified that she looked through the peephole and observed a uniformed police officer. K.T. did not open the door. Rather, K.T. informed T.U. that there was police officer at the door and to therefore be quiet. When the women refused to answer the door, Sanderson used the master key to gain entrance to the hotel room. K.T. testified that Sanderson walked into the room and immediately looked in the bathroom, asking the women where their pimp was. K.T. testified that she informed Sanderson that they did not have a pimp, but were in business for themselves. Sanderson then asked the women for identification. K.T. testified that she recognized Sanderson from the photograph that he sent earlier that day. Sanderson took the women's identification, radioed in to dispatch, and wrote some information down in "little black book" that he kept in his pocket. Tr. 182. K.T. testified that Sanderson was in full police uniform and was armed with a handgun and a Taser.

         {¶ 17} At this point, Sanderson ordered the women to lift up their dresses so that he could search them. K.T. testified that he made them show their bras and bare skin. T.U. testified that Sanderson ran his finger along the inside of the waistband of her see-through underwear. Sanderson then asked the women if there were any drugs in the room. K.T. testified that she responded by taking a small baggie of marijuana out of a Swisher Sweets box located on the nightstand and throwing it on the middle of the bed. K.T. testified that she had been arrested for prostitution in the past, and she thought that Sanderson was behaving strangely for a police officer under the circumstances.

         {¶ 18} K.T. testified that Sanderson then placed her in handcuffs with her hands in front of her body, and he used foot shackles to handcuff T.U., also with her hands in front of her body. T.U. testified that Sanderson handcuffed them because K.T. was "talking too much and making him nervous." Tr. 258. Sanderson eventually removed the handcuffs from the women. K.T. testified that Sanderson told them that he would not arrest them if they promised to take down the advertisement on Backpage.com, and if they "show[ed] him their boobs." Tr. 262. T. U. testified that they complied by taking down the Backpage.com advertisements in his presence and by both women revealing their breasts to him.

         {¶ 19} Thereafter, Sanderson left the room and returned the master key to the front desk. K.T. testified that Sanderson returned approximately five minutes later and knocked on the door. K.T. opened the door and allowed Sanderson into the room. Once inside, Sanderson asked the women if they "wanted to have fun off the record." Tr. 265. Both K.T. and T.U. were still afraid that Sanderson was going to arrest them, so they responded affirmatively. K.T. also testified that she had been violently raped in the past. Therefore, K.T. testified that she did not want to have to fight Sanderson off or get raped at gunpoint if she refused his advances. K.T. testified that Sanderson took off his pants and sat down on the bed, at which point K.T. and T.U. took turns performing fellatio on him. Sanderson then told K.T. and T.U. to get on their hands and knees after which he penetrated both women vaginally from behind with his penis.

         {¶ 20} K.T. testified that Sanderson stopped the assault shortly thereafter, stating that he had to get back to work before his boss discovered his absence. Sanderson got dressed and left the room. T.U. testified that after Sanderson was gone, she and K.T. were both shocked but agreed that they would investigate whether Sanderson was actually a police officer. As previously stated, K.T. testified that she had been arrested for prostitution multiple times in the past and was familiar with detectives from the Dayton Police Department's vice squad. Therefore, K.T. contacted Detective John Howard and informed him of the events surrounding Sanderson's sexual assault of her and T.U. K.T. also gave Detective Howard the photograph of "Slick Johnson" that she had been sent. Using this information, Detective Howard was able to identify Sanderson as a suspect. Detective Howard shared this information with the FBI and Vandalia Police Sergeant Thomas Vallery.

         {¶ 21} On July 6, 2017, Vandalia Police Officer Cody Anderson was on patrol when he observed a Phillipsburg Police cruiser in the parking lot of the Knights Inn. Having been briefed on the investigation into Sanderson, he immediately contacted his superiors regarding the presence of the Phillipsburg cruiser. Shortly thereafter, Sergeants Flynn and Vallery arrived at the Knights Inn, where they arrested Sanderson and took him into custody. Upon being questioned regarding his presence at the hotel in another jurisdiction, Sanderson stated that he was conducting a human trafficking investigation. Significantly, Phillipsburg Police Chief Wysong testified that Sanderson had never been cleared to conduct a human trafficking investigation in Vandalia or anywhere else.

         {¶ 22} When he was initially arrested on July 6, 2017, the police were still unaware of Sanderson's sexual assaults of K.W. and T.B. The record establishes that K.W. told a friend about the assault, and after hearing about Sanderson's arrest on the news, the friend contacted Vandalia police. T.B.'s husband contacted a friend employed by the Clay Township Police Department, Officer Martin Stringfellow, for advice on how to report a rape committed by a police officer. When Officer Stringfellow heard about Sanderson's arrest on the news, he contacted the Vandalia police.

         {¶ 23} Thereafter, on August 28, 2017, Sanderson was indicted for three counts of rape (by force or threat of force), seven counts of sexual battery (other person in custody), two counts of gross sexual imposition (by force or threat of force), two counts of kidnapping (sexual motivation), one count of aggravated burglary (deadly weapon), two counts of unauthorized use of a law enforcement gateway, and four counts of interfering with civil rights. As previously stated, both kidnapping counts were accompanied by sexual motivation specifications. At his arraignment on August 31, 2017, Sanderson pled not guilty to the charged offenses.

         {¶ 24} On October 3, 2017, Sanderson filed a motion to suppress any statements he made to police after being arrested and taken into custody. On December 19, 2017, Sanderson filed a motion to withdraw his motion to suppress. On April 6, 2018, Sanderson filed a waiver of his right to a jury trial.

         {¶ 25} On August 20, 2018, the State dismissed the two counts of unauthorized use of a law enforcement gateway (Counts XIV and XV). Sanderson's bench trial began on August 20 and ended on August 22, 2018. On August 29, 2018, the trial court filed an entry finding Sanderson guilty of all of the remaining counts in the indictment. The trial court also ordered a presentence investigation report (PSI).

         {¶ 26} On September 12, 2018, the trial court sentenced Sanderson as follows:

K.W.
Count I - GSI - 18 months
Count II - Rape - 11 years mandatory
Count III- Sexual Battery - merged with Count II
Count IV - Rape - 11 years mandatory
Count V - Sexual Battery - merged with Count IV
Count VI - Kidnapping - 11 years
Count VII - Interference with Civil Rights. - ...

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