A known drug house under surveillance is a fact on which suspicion may be based, rather than a vague hunch … knowledge that the residences under surveillance were known drug houses is sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.
State v. Karsikas
2020 – Ohio – 5058
Eleventh District Appellate Court
Ashtabula County, Ohio
October 26, 2020
On Thursday February 14, 2019 Ashtabula Police Officer Christopher DeFina was working in concert with Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Michael Royko to combat the narcotics trade in Ashtabula, Ohio. Tr. Royko was assigned to the Trumbull, Ashtabula and Geauga County Drug Task Force, commonly known as TAG.
At 1:06 p.m. Officer DeFina and Trooper Royko were in radio and telephone contact. Trooper Royko observed a male later identified as Mr. Gary Karsikas, drive a gray truck, parked and walked into a known drug house at 1724 Walnut Boulevard, Ashtabula, Ohio.
While assigned to TAG and Operation Stone Garden, Ohio State Highway Patrol Michael Royko observed Mr. Gary Karsikas walk in and out of this known drug house at 1724 Walnut Boulevard, Ashtabula, Ohio, for less than five minutes. Photo is courtesy of Officer DeFina.
Mr. Karsikas was inside the drug house for less than five minutes, left and drove to a parking lot next to another known drug house at 1525 West 8th Avenue.
Mr. Karsikas drove just over one half mile from drug house to drug house. In this short drive, Tr. Royko and Officer DeFina had to make quick decisions to determine if there was enough reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. Karsikas. The decision by law enforcement was made in minutes, however it would be a year and half later before the Eleventh District Appellate Court would issue the same decision – the detention of Mr. Karsikas was lawful.
At that moment, Officer DeFina recognized Mr. Karsikas. Officer DeFina had previously arrested Mr. Karsikas and known him as a regular consumer of narcotics “[T]hroughout [his] career.”. Officer DeFina was in a marked cruiser and activated his light bar as Mr. Karsikas stopped in the lot. Mr. Karsikas fled from the pickup and ran towards the front door of 1525 West 8th Avenue. Officer DeFina was in foot pursuit and as he closed in Mr. Karsikas was on the front porch. There was another male, later identified Mr. Tyler Johnson, on the front porch. Mr. Johnson was ordered off the porch and he was detained by responding officers. Mr. Karsikas was also detained and placed in a cruiser.
Mr. Karsikas parked his pickup next to 1525 West 8th Avenue and as Officer DeFina turned on his beacons, he fled the pickup and ran on the front porch where he was initially detained and later placed under arrest.
Officer DeFina is a canine officer and took his partner, Basco, around the gray pick up. Basco alerted on the pick up but Officer DeFina did not find any drugs inside. Still suspicious, he doubled back to the front porch of 1525 West 8th Avenue and found a drug bindle by the front door where Mr. Karsikas was apprehended. The drug bindle totaled 0.24 grams and tested positive for cocaine, heroin, acetyl, fentanyl and carfentanil.
Officer Chris DeFina and his partner, Basco. Photo is courtesy of Officer DeFina.
Mr. Karsikas was charged and indicted with:
Tampering with Evidence O.R.C. § 2921.12(A)(1) F-3
Possession of a Fentanyl-Related Compound O.R.C. § 2925.11(A) and (C)(11)(a) F-5
Possession of Cocaine O.R.C. § 2925.11(A) and (C)(4)(a) F-5
Possession of Heroin O.R.C. § 2925.11(A) and (C)(6)(a) F- 5
Obstructing Official Business O.R.C. § 2921.31 (A) M-2
Mr. Karsikas plead Not Guilty and filed a Motion to Suppress which was denied by the trial court. He was tried in front of a jury, convicted of all charges and sentenced to two years in prison.
Mr. Karsikas filed an appeal to the Eleventh District Appellate Court which held “A known drug house under surveillance is a fact on which suspicion may be based, rather than a vague hunch … knowledge that the residences under surveillance were known drug houses is sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Karsikas, 2020 – Ohio – 5058 and a phone interview of Officer DeFina on February 26, 2021.
- Karsikas provided enough reasonable suspicion to Tr. Royko and Officer DeFina for the investigative detention and subsequent probable cause to search. The key here was that Officer DeFina did not use a pre-textual stop to begin to establish reasonable suspicion. The Eleventh District Appellate Court underscored Officer DeFina’s legal tactic when they stated, “It is well-established that a defendant’s conduct need not be criminal per se to support a finding of reasonable suspicion.”. This sentence could not have been written better if it had been penned by Mr. Gary Karsikas himself. Going into a drug house for less than five minutes is not in and of itself illegal. But it certainly rises to the level of at least Reasonable Suspicion.
- There are times that using a pre-textual is a good course of action. However, at times, this can be a mistake. If the suspect provides law enforcement with reasonable suspicion or probable cause the officer MUST accept that legal gift. Trying to use the minor misdemeanor traffic violation to begin the criminal investigation can be challenging and can fail.
- Another key to this case was the experience of Officer DeFina as he articulated his history with Mr. Karsikas. Because Officer DeFina was familiar with his jurisdiction and the recidivists, Mr. Karsikas was known to him. Additionally, Officer DeFina had identified the known drug houses and keenly observed Mr. Karsikas traveling between two of them. Law enforcement should always be cognizant of the felons trolling their jurisdiction and understand that drug houses are not always open. Drug houses are only open when they have product to sell. They are not open 24/7, just when they have product.
- In Karsikas, the court reasoned that Mr. Karsikas’ behavior rose to reasonable suspicion when he went inside the drug house at 1724 Walnut Boulevard and left after only ‘visiting’ for less than five minutes. Thereafter he traveled to 1525 West 8th Avenue, another known drug house. At that moment Officer DeFina established Reasonable Suspicion to stop and detain Mr. Karsikas. But just to add more Reasonable Suspicion, Mr. Karsikas fled from his pick up truck toward the front of 1525 West 8th Avenue and threw a bindle of dope on the porch. At this moment Officer DeFina would have Probable Cause to search Mr. Karsikas. Once the bindle was identified as drugs that gave Officer DeFina enough Probable Cause to arrest. Gary Karsikas played Reasonable Suspicion TAG and lost.
Does your agency train on Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!