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State v. Saxton

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

December 19, 2019

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Troy G. Saxton, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No. 17CR-4696

         On brief:

          Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Seth L. Gilbert, for appellee.

          Dennis C. Belli, for appellant.

         Argued:

          Daniel J. Stanley.

          Dennis C. Belli.

          DECISION

          LUPER SCHUSTER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Troy G. Saxton, appeals from a judgment entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas finding him guilty, pursuant to a no contest plea, of possession of cocaine as a major drug offender, possession of heroin as a major drug offender, aggravated possession of drugs, possession of cocaine, possession of heroin, and having a weapon while under disability. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} By indictment filed August 25, 2017, plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio, charged Saxton with one count of possession of cocaine as a major drug offender in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a first-degree felony; one count of possession of heroin as a major drug offender in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a first-degree felony; one count of aggravated possession of drugs in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a fifth-degree felony; one count of possession of cocaine in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a first-degree felony, with an accompanying one-year firearm specification; one count of possession of heroin in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a second-degree felony, with an accompanying one-year firearm specification; and one count of having a weapon while under disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13, a third-degree felony. The charges followed the execution of two search warrants in January 2017. One warrant related to a search of 2100 Courtright Road, and the other warrant related to a search of 6144 Stornoway Drive. Saxton initially entered a plea of not guilty.

         {¶ 3} On November 28, 2017, Saxton filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officers lacked probable cause to obtain the two search warrants. Specifically, Saxton argued the warrant for 2100 Courtright Road lacked sufficient particularity; the affidavit in support of the search warrant did not establish a nexus between 6144 Stornoway Drive and illegal activity; that the information in the search warrant affidavit had become stale; that the affidavit was deliberately or recklessly misleading; and that officers did not rely on the warrant in good faith. The state opposed the motion, and the trial court set the matter for a hearing.

         {¶ 4} At the suppression hearing on May 17, 2018, the state introduced copies of the search warrants for both Courtright Road and Stornoway Drive and the affidavit used to obtain both search warrants. The affidavit was signed by Detective Earl Grinstead of the Whitehall Police Department. In it, Detective Grinstead averred that four separate informants had contacted the narcotics unit of the Whitehall Police with information regarding a large-scale narcotics trafficking operation occurring at the auto body shop located at 2100 Courtright Road. The informants implicated Saxton and Malcolm Sunderland, the co-owners of the body shop, as well as other individuals associated with the body shop.

         {¶ 5} The affidavit further stated that based on the information from the informants, Whitehall police set up surveillance of 2100 Courtright Road and observed Saxton regularly come and go from the west door of the body shop. Police observed Saxton drive a GMC Yukon registered in his daughter's name, and a records check revealed Saxton's daughter had criminal cases in 2010 and 2014 involving drugs and a cash seizure of over $40, 000. Detective Grinstead averred in the affidavit that throughout the course of the surveillance, police officers witnessed a "constant flow" of traffic from both pedestrians and vehicles and interactions that resembled drug transactions in the parking lot of the body shop. (State's Ex. 1, Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 2.)

         {¶ 6} Detective Grinstead further averred that police checked Saxton's name and the 2100 Courtright Road address through their records system, and both had been "flagged" by the high intensity drug trafficking area task force ("HIDTA"). Specifically, the affidavit stated that a March 2016 investigation found Saxton "responsible" for the distribution of "multiple kilograms of cocaine" at the 2100 Courtright Road location. (Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 2.) The 2016 investigation also linked the location of 6144 Stornoway Drive to Saxton, which HIDTA investigators believed to be Saxton's residence. The HIDTA investigation allowed HIDTA agents to identify several "source dealers" linked to Saxton, and HIDTA agents recovered $36, 000 in cash that Saxton had given to a source dealer for a kilogram of cocaine. (Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 3.) Detective Grinstead then averred in the affidavit that an "indictment for conspiracy to distribute is pending against Troy Saxton" as a result of the HIDTA investigation. (Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 3.)

         {¶ 7} The affidavit also stated that on January 2, 2017, Whitehall police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine at 2100 Courtright Road using an informant. The informant successfully purchased crack in the parking lot of the body shop from a person named Nick. Further, the affidavit stated that within 72 hours prior to the affidavit, Whitehall police officers instructed an informant to arrange a controlled buy of cocaine from Saxton at the body shop at 2100 Courtright Road. Prior to the transaction, officers witnessed Saxton arrive at the body shop and enter through the west door. A few minutes later, officers observed Saxton come back outside, meet the informant in the parking lot, and escort the informant back inside the body shop. The informant successfully purchased cocaine while inside the body shop.

         {¶ 8} Following the controlled drug transaction, the affidavit stated Whitehall officers followed Saxton to 6144 Stornoway Drive where he parked his vehicle in the "designated parking spot" for that address and entered the apartment through the rear door. (Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 5.) Detective Grinstead averred that he believed the proceeds from the drug transaction would be at Saxton's residence along with drugs and drug-related assets. Additionally, Detective Grinstead noted that the prior HIDTA investigation "shows [Saxton] in and out of [6144 Stornoway Drive] prior to and after suspected drug transactions." (Aff. in Support of Warrant to Search at 5.) Finally, the affidavit noted Saxton's prior criminal history includes several convictions for drug-related offenses, as well as convictions for domestic violence and assault.

         {¶ 9} At the suppression hearing, the trial court addressed Saxton's claim that under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), Detective Grinstead's affidavit was deliberately or recklessly misleading. While Saxton argued that the affidavit did not explain that some of the information in the affidavit came from the prior HIDTA investigation, the trial court determined that Saxton failed to show that the affidavit contained any intentional or reckless false statements regarding the HIDTA investigation. However, with the state's agreement, the trial court allowed defense counsel to question Detective Grinstead regarding the statement in the affidavit that "an indictment for conspiracy to distribute cocaine is pending" against Saxton, because Saxton was not under indictment at the time of the affidavit. (May 17, 2018 Tr. at 7.) In response, Detective Grinstead stated that during his investigation into Saxton, HIDTA detectives told him they had a "pending case" with Saxton and "led [him] to believe that they were going to file an indictment against him at the time of [Detective Grinstead's] Whitehall investigation." (May 17, 2018 Tr. at 32.) Further, Detective Grinstead testified he did not intend the "pending" line to be a false statement but intended it to mean that "the investigation is pending and the indictment is pending being filed." (May 17, 2018 Tr. at 48.)

         {¶ 10} During the hearing, Detective Grinstead also testified about obtaining the warrant for the body shop at 2100 Courtright Road. Detective Grinstead described the building as having no visible address on the outside, but he knew the 2100 address from the HIDTA investigation, from maps of the area, and from the fact that the building was on the even-numbered side of the road. Though Detective Grinstead agreed officers executing the warrant entered through two separate doors, one on the west side and one on the north side of the building, he testified that he had no reason to believe, prior to entering, that there were multiple addresses associated with the building.

         {¶ 11} The warrant authorized a search of:

2100 Courtright Road, Columbus, Ohio 43232, A multi room building constructed of block painted gray with red trim. The building has an office door located on the west side of the building that is constructed with wood paneling. There is currently no visible sign or address for the reported auto body shop.

(State's Ex. 1, Warrant to Search.) Detective Grinstead testified that all the drugs seized pursuant to the warrant for 2100 Courtright Road came from the west office, and police seized a firearm from a crate in the mechanic's bay on the opposite side of the building. Detective Grinstead testified that there was no indication that the mechanic's bay was outside the authorized search area of the warrant.

         {¶ 12} Following the hearing, the trial court denied Saxton's motion to suppress in a May 31, 2018 decision and entry. Specifically, the trial court found both search warrants were valid and contained probable cause to search both the body shop on Courtright Road and the apartment on Stornoway Drive. As to Saxton's Franks challenge, the trial court concluded that the affidavit "clearly" stated which information stemmed from the HIDTA investigation. (Decision at 5.) However, the trial court concluded that a reviewing judge or law enforcement officer would likely interpret the "pending federal indictment" line of the affidavit as suggesting an indictment had already been filed against Saxton, so the trial court struck that line from the affidavit and determined that the remaining content of the affidavit created sufficient probable cause to search both locations. (Decision at 5-6.)

         {¶ 13} Subsequently, on June 18, 2018, Saxton entered pleas of no contest to all six counts of the indictment. At the plea hearing, the state provided the following facts: when police apprehended Saxton, he had $635 in cash on his person as well as pills in his jacket pockets and in the console of his vehicle. The search of Stornoway Drive yielded approximately 267 grams of cocaine, 36 grams of heroin, 2, 000 grams of "brick-sized" cocaine, another 830 grams of heroin, digital scales, and a drug press. (June 18, 2018 Tr. at 7-8.) Additionally, the search of Courtright Road yielded 68 grams of cocaine, 45 grams of heroin, a digital scale, a notebook with names and addresses, 31 individually wrapped pills, 3 grams of crack cocaine, and a loaded pistol in a crate in the mechanic's bay of the body shop. The trial court accepted Saxton's plea, found him guilty of all six offenses, and sentenced him to an aggregate prison term of 18 years, journalizing his conviction in a November 1, 2018 judgment entry. Saxton timely appeals.

         II. ...


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