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State v. Chafin

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Fairfield

December 23, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
JASON CHAFIN Defendant-Appellant

          Criminal appeal from the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2018CR377

         JUDGMENT: Affirmed

          For Plaintiff-Appellant KYLE WITT Fairfield County Prosecutor

          For Defendant-Appellee ANDREW SANDERSON Burkett & Sanderson, Inc.

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.


          Gwin, P.J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant Jason Chafin ["Chafin"] appeals his conviction and sentence after a bench trial in the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} On June 10, 2018, 15-year-old L.L. went to work in the morning at a Lancaster, Ohio restaurant. L.L. had a disagreement with her supervisor and left work. L.L. could not reach her family and had no ride home. As L.L. walked home a Jimmy John's delivery driver, whom she did not know, offered her a ride. The delivery driver, Chafin, told L.L. he had to make a delivery prior to dropping her off near her home. L.L. agreed and got into Chafin's red Honda automobile.

         {¶3} As Chafin and L.L. rode toward the delivery drop off, Chafin told her his name was Jason, asked how old she was, and inquired if anyone knew that she was walking home alone. After making the delivery in the Dominion Homes subdivision, L.L. recognized that Chafin was driving in the opposite direction from which they had entered the subdivision. L.L. became fearful. After Chafin pulled away from the delivery location and the car was in motion, Chafin asked L.L. if she "liked to flirt." Chafin told L.L. that she was pretty. After telling L.L. she was pretty, Chafin firmly grasped L.L.'s hand causing her to jerk her hand away to break his grip. (1T. at 103-105[1]). L. L. demanded that Chafin stop and pulled her hand away from his hand. (1T. 102, 106). When Chafin made no attempt to stop, L.L. jumped from the car. (1T. 106, 107). L.L. suffered scratches to the palms of her hand when she caught herself after the jump. L.L. testified that the car never slowed down even after she jumped from the car. (1T. 114). In fact, L.L. testified that the car sped off after she had jumped. (1T. at 115). L.L. recalled that she had observed a car seat, stickers and items affiliated with Jimmy John's on Chafin and displayed on the car. (1T. 114).

         {¶4} Tracy Wentz, a resident of a subdivision built by Dominion Homes known as "River Valley Highlands," had contact with a neighbor of hers that is hard of hearing. The neighbor brought L.L. over to Wentz's residence due to the communication difficulties. Wentz observed that L.L. had been sobbing and was breathing heavily. L.L. explained she had taken a ride from a delivery driver who had offered to give her a ride home. Instead, during a delivery in Wentz's neighborhood, the driver had touched L.L. and said things to her that caused L.L. to flee his car. Wentz sat with L.L. on her porch until LL's father arrived to pick her up.

         {¶5} LL's father, C. S. arrived at Wentz's home. Earlier that day C.S. had dropped L.L. off to work in the morning. When C.S. picked up L.L., he learned that a male Jimmy John's delivery driver had scared his daughter and she jumped from the car. C.S. immediately drove to the Jimmy John's location where he asked about the delivery driver and waited in front of the store. C.S., who is a large man, admitted he was angry but never saw any male delivery driver pulled into the location while he waited for police. The demeanor of C.S. caused the employees of Jimmy John's to call 9-1-1.

         {¶6} Breanna Richardson was the Jimmy John's assistant manager on duty on June 10, 2018 and was working with Chafin. Richardson encountered C.S. who arrived at the store and made a threat to the delivery driver in the red car. Richardson called both Lori Wood and Chafin after C.S. arrived. Lori Wood is Chafin's mother. Jimmy John's also employed her on the date of the incident. Richardson told Chafin to park out back when he arrived and to call her so she could let him in the back of the Jimmy John's. Chafin inquired what was wrong and Richardson told him, "Don't worry about it." Richardson also called Wood and told her to come in to work early as she would need a driver and that the problem had something to do with Chafin. Richardson did not recall telling Wood any details regarding the allegations in her phone call to Wood. Richardson did not tell Chafin to remove or alter his Jimmy John's work uniform or to park his car in a different location.

         {¶7} Valerie Gould was the general manager of the Jimmy John's restaurant and was involved in the process of hiring Chafin. During the hiring process, Gould ensured that Chafin knew he must wear Jimmy John's approved hat and shirt during working hours and that his delivery vehicle was required to display the Jimmy John's sign. The Jimmy John's driver policy banned drivers from picking up any passenger. Gould confirmed that Jimmy John's employs an order tracking system and that during the shift of Chafin on June 10, 2018 he made two separate deliveries to a location of 2602 Two Ridge Avenue in the Dominion Homes subdivision. Gould explained that Chafin remained employed with Jimmy John's after June 10, 2018 and had explained the situation to her as a "misunderstanding."

         {¶8} Lori Wood, Chafin's mother, confirmed that she had received a phone call from Richardson on June 10, 2018. Wood confirmed she, her son Chafin, and a daughter were all employed at Jimmy John's. Wood also confirmed that on the date of alleged offense Chafin had told her not to worry because he had, "done nothing wrong." (1T. 208). Wood was also questioned if she had any later conversations with her son about the events during a recorded call with Detective Underwood. Specifically, within the call Wood reported Chafin told her, "He said he had offered her a ride. He told her that he had to make a delivery. She said that was fine. He made his deliver. He was on his way out of the housing complex and she said she didn't feel comfortable. And he said to give him a minute. He was pulling over to let her out and she tried to get out. And he didn't want her to get hurt, so he tried to stop her from jumping out right before he stopped. And she got out and he came back - he went on about his - went back to the store, got his delivery. He made his delivery to the mall, and then I called him and stopped him from going to Crestview." (1T. 223-224). Although the context of the question from Detective Underwood was, "Did you talk with Jason again?" Wood asserted at trial she had received some of the information from another son, Kelly, who is a Morgan County Sherriff's deputy. (1T. at 243).

         {¶9} On June 10, 2018 at approximately 12:21 p.m., Officer David Thompson of the Lancaster Police Department responded to a dispatch for the Jimmy John's restaurant at 1804 Memorial Drive. He contacted L.L. and her father outside in front of the store. Officer Thompson learned that L.L. was alleging something had occurred between her and a male Jimmy John's delivery driver. Officer Thompson observed that L.L. was visibly shaken and had a slight injury to her hand. Officer Thompson entered the Jimmy John's storefront looking for a male employee but seeing no males made contact with two female employees. Officer Thompson learned that C.S. had previously entered the Jimmy John's and as a result, the female employees had called the male delivery driver on duty to return to the store.

         {¶10} When back up officers arrived, Officer Thompson walked behind the store to see if he could locate the delivery vehicle described; but did not see the vehicle. Officer Thompson later found that the male delivery driver, Chafin, had returned and contacted him in the rear Jimmy John's parking lot. Upon Officer Thompson's initial contact, Chafin was found sitting in a black Jeep not fitting the description of the delivery vehicle and not wearing any clothing identifying him as a Jimmy John's employee.

         {¶11} Officer Thompson later located Chafin's red Honda Civic parked in the back lot of a Burger King restaurant in close proximity to the Jimmy John's restaurant. Thompson noted numerous things about the interior of the red Civic that matched the description of the vehicle given by L.L. such as a distinctive sticker and a baby seat. Although Officer Thompson did not initially know of any familial connections at the Jimmy John's, he was able to later determine that Chafin's mother and sister were also employed at Jimmy John's and had spoken with Chafin as he sat in the black Jeep behind Jimmy John's. Officer Thompson would later arrange to have the red Honda Civic towed and was surprised to find that the red Honda had been moved from behind the nearby Burger King to the back lot of Jimmy John's. Chafin's mother, Lori Wood had possession of the car keys. Police had not requested that anyone move the vehicle. The red Honda was impounded with all contents left inside. Officer Thompson additionally canvassed nearby locations of other potential witnesses and obtained the morning delivery receipts made from Jimmy John's.

         {¶12} After the police identified Chafin as the delivery driver, he remained with Officer Andrew Bennett, the second officer responding to the scene. Officer Bennett learned from Jimmy John's staff that Chafin was sitting in the parking lot behind the restaurant. Officer Bennett was wearing an AXON body camera that captured much of his conversation and interaction with Chafin. (1T. 296). Officer Bennett's interactions with Chafin were played during trial and made part of the record as State's Exhibit 11.

         {¶13} During the video clip, Chafin can be observed sitting in a black Jeep and is wearing nothing identifying him as a Jimmy John's delivery driver. Chafin, who appears upset and agitated, states several times that he had not picked up anyone in his delivery car that day. Specifically, Chafin makes statements on the video such as: "I don't know this person"; "I've never met this person."; 'Nothing happened."; "I will be countering."; "It's one word against another. I've prosecuted several cases myself"; "There is no evidence." and, "There's no way to prove it. It's one against another."

         {¶14} At around eight minutes into the video clip, Chafin's mother, Lori Wood approaches Chafin and Officer Bennett. Wood inquires of Officer Bennett if the witness (L.L.) has identified Chafin or his car. Officer Bennett responds he does not have that level of information, to which, Chafin responds, "Nothing happened."

         {¶15} Chafin never suggests that LL. was ever inside his vehicle. The closest Chafin came to acknowledging he gave anyone a ride on June 10, 2018 is in the form of a hypothetical he poses to Officer Bennett. Chafin asks, "Hypothetically, say I did give her a ride it's still one person's word against another. There is no proof of ...

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