Judge hears attorney argue that justice is anything but swift

LISBON – Testimony was heard by Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike on Friday in an effort by defense attorney James Hartford to prove there was too much delay of his client’s right to a speedy trial.

Vonlie Cooper, 25, Weirton, W.Va., is charged with two counts of drug possession and fleeing from police after he allegedly was shot in the foot by a State Highway Patrol Trooper while running away on March 2, 2012.

Highway Patrol reports from the time of the fleeing incident reportedly indicated Cooper was southbound on state Route 45 in Madison Township and refused to stop for patrol Sgt. Timothy Timberlake. Cooper reportedly led troopers on a traffic chase which included state Route 518, Old Route 45, Osbourne Road and Hibbitts Mill Road.

The chase also went through a trailer park and ended when Cooper reportedly went into a driveway. He crashed into several trees before fleeing on foot. At some point during the foot pursuit, Cooper was shot in the ankle by a trooper and taken into custody.

But the facts of the fleeing incident were not in question on Friday. What was in question was why there has been no trial between March 2012 and Nov. 5, 2013, when Hartford filed his motion to dismiss the charges due to a failure to provide Cooper with a speedy trial.

Hartford contends the prosecutor’s office has 270 days to bring someone to justice unless there are valid delays. By his calculation, on Nov. 5, 2013, 594 days had already passed.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones said she does not dispute the time period, but does believe certain tolling events still leave the prosecutor’s office with 122 days remaining.

Jones asked Sgt. Robert Dowling of the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office to testify to some of the issues there have been in serving Cooper with the initial indictment and later a superceding indictment regarding the charges.

Cooper was charged initially in Columbiana County Municipal Court where he appeared with crutches for a preliminary hearing on March 15, 2012 and was bound over to the grand jury. The grand jury issued an indictment on March 27, 2012. Dowling said deputies attempted to serve the indictment to Cooper at the James Drive, Wellsville, address he had given on March 30, but were unsuccessful in locating him.

It was learned he may be in jail in West Virginia, but according to a note in the records the current Director of the Drug Task Force Brian McLaughlin determined on April 20, 2012, Cooper was not in any West Virginia jail.

In June 2012 when the superceding indictment was issued with an additional charge added, deputies again went to the James Drive address to attempt to serve the warrant. Again Cooper was not found.

In August 2012 deputies learned he may be living at a home in Weirton, W.Va., and both the Weirton Police and County Sheriff in that area were alerted by teletype on Aug. 10, 2012 of the warrant for Cooper in Columbiana County. However, there was no response.

Dowling said on Feb. 22, 2013, deputies reportedly learned Cooper was serving time on house arrest in Hancock County, W.Va. Columbiana County Sheriff’s Lt. Allen Young reportedly faxed a copy of the indictment for Cooper to a Sgt. (Brian) Swan in Hancock County, who Young reportedly believed was going to serve Cooper with the indictment and then notify the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Department.

The next time deputies heard anything, Cooper was reportedly in the Northern Regional Facility in Moundsville, W.Va. in September 2013. He was picked up by Columbiana County deputies there on Sept. 19 and returned here to face the charges from March 2012.

Hartford questioned the lack of effort made by deputies to find Cooper, asking why more follow up phone calls were not made to locate him. He questioned why a deputy went a second time to the James Drive, Wellsville, address after it had already proven to be invalid.

Jones asked Dowling if the procedures used were any different from what is normally done or “standard practice and procedure.” Dowling agreed it was handled in the standard way.

Cooper took the stand himself explaining after he was in jail in Columbiana County and bound over to the grand jury here, he was taken back to West Virginia on a probation violation for what happened here. He served about 10 days in the Northern Regional Facility, but Cooper said they sent him home on house arrest on March 27, 2012 to avoid paying for the medical expenses for his ankle, which was injured in the shooting incident in Ohio.

Cooper claimed he was on house arrest for 18 months in Chester, W.Va., between March 27, 2012 and Aug. 22, 2013. He testified during that time he made weekly contact with his probation officer and even made calls to both Young and the former Director of the Columbiana County Drug Task Force Dan Downard. Cooper testified he gave at least Downard his new telephone number and address, hoping to make a deal by working with the task force. However, he said eventually they did not return his calls so he gave up.

Cooper claimed he was never told by Downard, Young, his Hancock County probation officer or anyone about the warrant for him here. Although paperwork reportedly showed Swan may have executed the warrant on Feb. 22, 2013, Cooper said he learned about it when the U.S. Marshal’s office came and got him as a fugitive from justice in August. He finished serving a short amount of time in West Virginia and was picked up by Columbiana County deputies on Sept. 19.

Pike gave both attorneys another week to file any additional paperwork before he makes his decision about whether the delays in the case are valid time issues.