Defense seeks to have evidence in drug search thrown out

LISBON – Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike heard testimony this week from both sides regarding the legalities of a search which led to drugs being found in a Salem home last December.

Nathan Steer, 27, East Eighth Street, Salem, is charged with illegal assembly or possession of the chemicals to manufacture drugs, illegal manufacturing in drugs, cultivation of marijuana and four counts of possession of drugs, along with forfeiture specifications.

The charges came after two county sheriff’s deputies and a Salem police officer went to the home last December searching for Steer on a warrant for failure to appear.

Deputy Sgt. Steven Boyd testified Monday he knocked on the door at about 1:15 p.m., and a man let him into the home. When asked about Steer, the man said Steer was possibly with his girlfriend upstairs, according to Boyd. Boyd said he immediately saw a large marijuana bong on a counter near the door and smelled a strong odor of marijuana in the house.

The man was handcuffed and seated on the couch by deputy Luke Skidmore. Boyd said he then started up the stairs and was met by a man later identified as Steer coming down the stairs. Steer was also secured with handcuffs and asked if there was anyone else in the house. Steer denied there was, but Boyd said he heard movement upstairs and proceeded to go up to look for the girlfriend or anyone else.

Boyd said his reasoning was officer safety, to make sure there was no one there to come up behind him. Another man was found coming out of a bedroom. He also was secured. Boyd testified he continued to sweep the rest of the house, looking for people. Instead, he found marijuana stems and scales in the bedroom, and a large number of marijuana plants growing in the basement.

Once he knew there was no one left in the home, Boyd said he contacted the drug task force, which obtained a warrant because Steer refused to allow them to search his home. After the warrant was located, police did a more thorough search and also found an active meth cook in a jar sitting in the upstairs bedroom with a hose going out the window.

Steer’s defense attorney James Lanzo questioned Boyd whether anyone invited him into the house to search, why he continued his search after he had Steer handcuffed and whether he was really in danger when no one attacked him. Boyd said he only had a description of Steer and no photo. He also did not know who else was in the house.

William Michaels III, Depot Road, Lisbon, testified on Steer’s behalf. Michaels, Steer’s landlord at the home, said he had a domestic situation in his own life around that same time and was sleeping on Steer’s couch that day. He admitted he was hung over, but claimed police walked right into the house before he even got into the kitchen from the living room couch.

Michaels also testified he did not know who was in the house that day because he had been asleep and did not know about the large amount of drugs growing downstairs. He continued that two police were there at first and more came. He said he thought Steer met the police downstairs so they did not have any reason go up. He said he never saw a search warrant, but police were talking about the drugs in the basement and sending each other down to look at it.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones questioned how Michaels could not have smelled the marijuana odor in the house and how he was sleeping that late in the afternoon. She also asked whether the stairs and the basement door were visible to him from his position on the couch so he could see authorities going up or downstairs. The last question he was unsure about.

Lanzo told Pike he believes the home was illegally entered and the search was unconstitutional. Jones countered with police are entitled to sweep a home for their own protection, especially when there are multiple people and clear evidence of possible drug use, such as the marijuana odor and drug paraphernalia.

Pike said he would take the matter under advisement.