July 13, 2018

A judge would have likely suppressed key evidence of a drunken-driving case last year had he been aware of the arresting officer’s questionable credibility, the judge ruled on Thursday.

As part of that ruling, District Associate Judge Joseph McCarville nullified the OWI conviction of a 37-year-old Carroll man who was arrested by former Carroll Police Officer Jacob Smith in June 2017.

Smith was forced to resign from the department a month later, in part because of his sexual relationship with a high school student. He sued the Daily Times Herald for libel for an article it published about what led to the resignation.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in May. As a result of the lawsuit, hundreds of pages of documents and under-oath interviews with police officers about Smith’s misconduct are now a part of the public court record.

Those documents and interviews revealed a host of complaints about Smith that included lapses of “reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause when investigating crimes or making arrests,” according to Philip Stinson, a professor of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University’s Criminal Justice Program.

Stinson was hired as an expert witness by the Times Herald to review Smith’s conduct as part of the newspaper’s defense against the libel lawsuit.

“His record as a confessed liar would make it difficult for prosecutors to rely on Smith’s testimony at any criminal trials in the future,” Stinson concluded in his April 2018 report.

The man who challenged the OWI conviction, Myles Collins Johnson, argued that Smith was wrong to stop him the night he was arrested. Smith claimed Johnson’s rear license plate light wasn’t working, but Johnson insists the light was on.

Judge McCarville considered the issue in a September 2017 court hearing to decide whether the results of Johnson’s breath test for intoxication should be suppressed because the traffic stop was improper.

The test revealed his blood-alcohol concentration was .193 percent — more than double the limit to drive. At the time, McCarville sided with Smith.

“The court finds no evidence that the officer was not truthful,” McCarville wrote.

Johnson subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two days in jail and fined $2,159.50, which he paid.

In his Thursday ruling, McCarville wrote that the lawsuit documents “set forth serious concerns about the credibility of Officer Smith.”

McCarville vacated Johnson’s conviction, which will likely lead to another court hearing on the motion to suppress the intoxication test. McCarville signaled that he would likely grant the motion.

This is the first conviction of someone who was arrested by Smith to be overturned because of the former officer’s questionable credibility.

“This is personally troubling,” Carroll County Attorney John Werden, who prosecuted Johnson, said in court on Thursday. “Even though I didn’t know about these matters (while Smith was a police officer), I have a duty to find out.”

Werden said his office has undertaken a comprehensive review of Smith’s arrests and is notifying local attorneys of questionable cases.

“We probably never would have found out had the county attorney not contacted us,” said Jeff Minnich, an attorney who is representing Johnson.

Werden did not say how many questionable cases he has unearthed.

We would not be here today without the excellent investigative reporting of the Daily Times Herald,” Werden said in the Thursday court hearing.