When Obstructing Official Business Does Not Add Up: A Look At How An Arrest For Obstructing Official Business Was Not Supported By Specific And Articulable Facts

Not going to lie, when I first started reading State v. Nasca, 2016-Ohio-8223, I did not expect the trial court or the appellate court to come down in favor of the defendant.  To be honest, it does not take much for an obstructing of official business charge to stick.

In Nasca, Deputy Mullet of the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department, was dispatched to Nasca’s residence based on an anonymous informant alleging that Nasca’s son was in possession of a firearm and threatening suicide.  Deputy Mullet attempted to make telephone contact with any occupants of the residence but was unsuccessful.

Before going on, I would like to take a moment that when reading this case; my image of Deputy Mullet not only has a mullet but that he also has a beautiful 1970s mustache.  I also imagined that when someone asks Deputy Mullet what he does for a living he simply states in a low gruff voice, “I bust punks for a living.”

Moving on, Deputy Mullet testified that he was aware that Nasca used his garage to enter the residence which was guarded by large dogs due to being called to the residence before.  Deputy Mullet yelled from outside of the garage that he was there, but no one came outside at that time.

Deputy Mullet then began to knock of the front door.  After waiting two to three minutes, Nasca responded to the knocking.  Deputy Mullet told Mr. Nasca that he was there to check on Nasca’s son.  Nasca told Deputy Mullet that he believed his son was downstairs.  Nasca left Deputy Mullet and began to go down his stairs.  Nasca, however, did not immediately return and Deputy Mullet began knocking on the front door again.

After about five minutes later, Nasca came outside, put his dogs away, and spoke with the officers inside the garage.  When asked by Deputy Mullet why it took him so long to return, Nasca did not provide a straight answer.  As their conversation continued, Nasca became upset, turned to walk inside his house, and told the officers to come back with a warrant.

Deputy Mullet stopped Nasca, grabbed his wrist, and advised him that he was going to detain him due to the severity of the investigation, i.e., that the officers believed Nasca was in danger due to the report that a suicidal person with a gun was inside the residence.  Nasca pulled away from the Deputy Mullet.  Deputy Mullet in turn, told Nasca that he was under arrest for obstructing official business.  Nasca continued to resist and was subsequently placed under arrest.

On cross-examination, Deputy Mullet testified that the anonymous informant called from outside of Ashtabula County.  Thus, the anonymous call did not come from Nasca’s residence.  In addition, the caller did not say whether or not he or she was with Christopher at the home.  Deputy Mullet stated that the purpose of the investigation and converging on Nasca’s residence was solely to investigate a suicide threat and that no one at the home was under suspicion of any criminal activity.  During Deputy Mullet’s time at Nasca’s residence, Deputy Mullet saw no signs that the residents had engaged in a struggle, saw no visible blood anywhere, and heard no calls for help or any gunshots.

Following the suppression hearing, the trial judge made the following observations from the bench:

“First of all, the Defendant is the father, and it seems to me that while there may have been reasonable concerns on the part of the officer or officers at the outset, I think the Court is very mindful of the fact that they spoke to Nasca, who lives at that residence, and the father went back into the house and was gone for three to five minutes.

Now, to me, that three to five-minute delay works against the State, because I’m going to – – I think I’m entitled to assume that the father was looking into the situation himself and was able to make a determination that there was no danger to his son, for whatever reasons he decided to rely upon.

And there’s no evidence that Defendant was impaired or unable to make rational judgments, so when the officer went to the door and the father takes it upon himself to look around the house and apparently is unconcerned himself, to me, that dissipates the existence of an emergency or other so-called exigent circumstances.  I think those exigent circumstances for the emergency situation went away, after the father had a chance to investigate.

And I thing that in this matter, there’s, from the evidence, I’d find that there was too much speculation on the part of the arresting officers in this case as to what was going on with Nasca’s son or what wasn’t.

So at any rate, I think that the action of arresting the Defendant or seeking to arrest the Defendant for obstruction is excessive and unwarranted and was not justified by the fact pattern we have before us.”

The State, however, did not like the trial court’s reasoning and appealed to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals.

The appellate court determined that the obstructing official business charge against Nasca is excessive and unwarranted based on the facts presented in the case.  The circumstances here, when viewed objectively, do not justify the officer’s continued actions.  State v. Minear, 2010-Ohio-6577.

The appellate court went on to state that Ohio courts have recognized three categories of informants: (1) citizen informants; (2) known informants, i.e., those from the criminal world who have previously provided reliable tips; and (3) anonymous informants, who are comparatively unreliable.  Maumee v. Weisner, 87 Ohio St.3d 295 (1999).

The appellate court found the following with regards to the anonymous caller:

1)         The anonymous call did not come from Nasca’s residence;

2)        The anonymous informant did not say he or she was with Nasca’s son at the home;

3)        The call was not from someone at the residence who saw Nasca’s son with a gun.

Thus, the appellate court held that unlike a citizen informant or a known informant, this anonymous informant was comparatively unreliable.

The appellate court went on to find the following facts in favor of Nasca:

1)         During the initial investigation, there were no signs that anyone was in danger;

2)        There were no signs that the residents had engaged in a struggle;

3)        There was no visible blood anywhere;

4)        The officers heard no calls for help or any gunshots;

5)         When speaking to Nasca through the door, Nasca did not seem at all concerned about his son;

6)        Nasca went to check on his son;

7)         There was no evidence that Nasca appeared to be in any immediate danger;

8)        There was no need for emergency or any immediate need to provide medical attention.

Based on the above facts, the appellate court found that the officers were not justified in seizing Nasca and restraining from re-entering his home.

This was a very fact specific case and I believe could have gone either way!

http://www.daytonduilaw.com

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