A Hillsboro man stands to face a jury in a couple weeks on multiple drugs charges following a failed attempt to suppress evidence on Wednesday in Highland County Common Pleas Court.
Robert W. Sions, 58, has been charged in two indictments with nine felonies, which include heroin trafficking and possession. Wednesday’s hearing was in regard to one of those cases.
James Boulger, Sions’ attorney, in his motion to suppress evidence challenged the validity of a traffic stop that turned up suspected drugs, as well as a subsequent warrant issued to search Sions’ residence.
Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins called both deputy Mike Gaines, and Sgt. deputy Craig Seaman of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office to give testimony on the traffic stop that occurred on May 15, 2015, east of Underground Road on SR 28.
Gaines said he parked his cruiser along SR 72 and that based on information “about possible drug activity” he received earlier in his shift from Seaman, he was looking for a silver Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Sions, who was said to be coming back from Dayton.
Gaines said he identified the car and that Sions was the driver, and once it passed him, Gaines started following him and observed that the car was speeding and at one point went left of center, so he initiated a traffic stop.
When he informed Sions that he was going to cite him for the observed traffic violations, Gaines said he asked if he could search the vehicle, and that Sions said “not without a search warrant or a K-9.”
Gaines said at that point Seaman was on scene with K-9 Jengo and when he told Sions, the defendant said he had a crack pipe in the car.
Seaman testified that he walked Jengo around the vehicle twice and that the dog “alerted” on the passenger side door seam.
After Sions was placed in the cruiser, Jengo was allowed inside the vehicle and located the crack pipe, and then “indicated” at the back seat of the vehicle. Behind the back seat a tool box was found containing “a large amount of narcotics,” Gaines testified.
Gaines said that Sions was not placed under arrest until after the discovery of the suspected drugs and the crack pipe.
The deputy testified that after the traffic stop he met with Sgt. Det. Chris Bowen to “possibly obtain” a search warrant for Sions’ residence.
Bowen testified that a warrant to search the residence was issued by Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David McKenna.
Gaines said “one of the reasons” he chose SR 72 was based on the information he’d received earlier that day. Another reason, he said, was that “several years ago” as he was transporting Sions to jail he learned that the defendant’s “preferred route” to and from Dayton included SR 72.
Collins asked Gaines if, even with the information he’d received, he would have stopped Sions if not for the traffic violations. He said, “No.”
Sions testified Wednesday and said he didn’t recall telling either deputy about the presence of a crack pipe in the vehicle. He also denied that he was speeding. He said he had just gotten a speeding ticket in Clinton County and was being mindful of his speed.
Sions said he saw Gaines’ cruiser parked off of SR 72 and that as soon as he passed the cruiser, the deputy began following him. He said he didn’t think he’d be pulled over because he wasn’t speeding.
Sions testified that he owned the contents of the car with the exception of the toolbox. But he also testified that no one else had been in possession of the car.
He said that Gaines was back in his cruiser “12, 13 minutes” before returning to Sions’ car to tell him he was being issued a citation for traffic violations, a citation he said he didn’t receive until he was already in jail.
Collins, in closing, said that Boulger was calling the traffic stop a “pretextual stop,” which is defined as one that involves law enforcement claiming a traffic violation in order to investigate some other suspected criminal offense.
“Frankly, it was,” she said. But she added that Gaines testified that had it not been for the traffic violations, he would not have pulled Sions over.
Boulger said the basis of the traffic stop was to cover law enforcement wanting to search the vehicle. “We know what the real interest here was,” he said.
Boulger argued that probable cause was not established and said the warrant for the search of the residence should not have been issued. He argued a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which does not allow for unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires that any warrant be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
Collins said previously the affidavit contained “more than enough” for the judge to issue a search warrant.
Ultimately, judge Rocky Coss overruled all parts of the motion, citing case law that upheld the actions of law enforcement.
“The stop was proper,” Coss said, and based on probable cause “even though officers were … looking for the opportunity” to come in contact with Sions.
He said the admission of a crack pipe being present in the vehicle gave the officers “reasonable suspicion to continue the investigation,” and that the admission was “ample justification” for the officers to proceed. The judge said later that the “K-9 search added another layer” to the probable cause.
Sions was charged in a September indictment with trafficking in and possession of heroin, both second-degree felonies; fifth-degree felony trafficking in and possession of heroin; and fifth-degree felony possession of criminal tools. He was also indicted in August on charges of second-degree felony trafficking in heroin and possession of heroin, fourth-degree felony possession of cocaine, and fifth-degree felony possession of cocaine.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, on two separate occasions in May and July, Sions was arrested by the Highland County Sheriff’s Office following traffic stops that led to the discovery of suspected drugs.
Sions remains in the custody of the sheriff’s office. While he is scheduled to face a jury on Oct. 13, Coss allowed that Sions has until Friday this week to enter a plea agreement.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.