We find Appellant’s repeated failure to comply with the officers’ requests to exit the house, under these circumstances, constituted affirmative acts which supported a conviction for obstructing official business.
State v. Williams
2021 – Ohio – 4200
Fifth District Appellate Court
Fairfield County, Ohio
November 29, 2021
Ms. Cheryl Snoke and Mr. Chad Williams were in a romantic relationship and lived together at 820 Washington Avenue, in Lancaster, Ohio. The relationship ended and Mr. Williams moved out of the home in approximately October 2020.
On Thursday December 3, 2020, Lancaster Police Officer Adam Dilley, Officer Brandon Eveland and Officer Lindsey were dispatched to 820 Washington Avenue, Lancaster, for a “removal.” Officer Dilley stated Ms. Snoke advised dispatch a man, later identified as Mr. Williams, had broken into the home through a window and she wanted him removed from the residence. When Officer Dilley and Officer Eveland approached, they heard a man yelling from inside the home. They also heard a female voice.
Mr. Williams moved out of 820 Washington Avenue, Lancaster, Ohio. On December 3, 2020 he returned … through a window and refused to leave when ordered by Lancaster Police Officers.
Officer Eveland explained he ordered everyone out of the residence for officer safety and to separate the individuals. Officer Eveland indicated Mr. Williams remained in the residence and he failed to comply with “multiple, lawful orders to exit.”. These multiple lawful orders would later be very important in sustaining a criminal charge against Mr. Williams.
Ms. Snoke explained that Mr. Williams was her ex-boyfriend and he had not lived at the residence in two months. She indicated Mr. Williams had entered the home through a window and she let Mr. Williams know he was not welcomed – as if entering a home through a window would not have been patently obvious to Mr. Williams.
Ms. Snoke described Mr. Williams’ behavior as erratic, and she was frightened because he was not acting normally. Officer Eveland and Officer Lindsey asked Mr. Williams to step out of the house, but he refused. Officer Dilley entered the residence and made contact with Mr. Williams, whom he described as “pretty erratic, kind of high strung…obviously upset, refusing really to have anything to do with us.”.
The officers gave Mr. Williams several more opportunities to exit. Mr. Williams continued to refuse. When the officers attempted to arrest Mr. Williams, he “began to actively resist.” Officer Eveland stated Mr. Williams appeared to be under the influence of drugs, adding “he was hyperactive. He had jerking movements. His voice was raised. He was very agitated for – We couldn’t even determine why he was so upset.” A struggle ensued. Mr. Williams “pulled officers onto him.” “A Taser was deployed because his active resistance was too much for the joint manipulation” and the officers “had to move to the next level of force.” The officers were eventually able to restrain and cuff Mr. Williams. During the struggle, Officer Eveland was knocked against the door.
The video from Officer Dilley’s body camera was played for the trial court. The video shows Officer Dilley approaching the residence. Officers Eveland and Lindsey are also at the scene. One of the officers knocks on the door and asks the occupants to step outside. The two females exit the residence. Mr. Williams can be heard saying, “I don’t want to come out.” Ms. Snoke advises Officer Dilley that Mr. Williams broke in through a window. Ms. Snoke indicates Mr. Williams has not lived there in two months. She tells the officer, “He’s scaring me.” Shouting can be heard from inside the residence. Officer Dilley enters. Officers Eveland and Lindsey order Mr. Williams to get on his stomach, but he refuses. A physical altercation ensues. Officer Dilley tells Mr. Williams he is being detained and to stop resisting. The three officers struggle to get Mr. Williams to comply. Mr. Williams is ultimately tasered and handcuffed. Throughout the video, Mr. Williams can be heard cursing at the officers.
After hearing all the evidence, the trial court found Mr. Williams guilty of Obstructing Official Business and Resisting Arrest. The trial court sentenced Mr. Williams to 90 days in jail on each count and ordered the sentences be served consecutively. The trial court suspended 70 days of each sentence.
Mr. Williams appealed his convictions stating that he did not impede the duties of the officers and the ‘only thing’ he did not do was get out of the house. He further opined that he answered all of the officers questions and therefore his convictions for Obstructing Official Business and Resisting Arrest should be overturned.
The Fifth District Appellate Court refuted Mr. Williams appeal and held:
“We find Appellant’s repeated failure to comply with the officers’ requests to exit the house, under these circumstances, constituted affirmative acts which supported a conviction for obstructing official business. While not every act of omission may constitute an overt act, we find Appellant’s repeated failure to comply with a direct lawful order is equivalent to an overt act in this case. The officers instructed Appellant four times to exit the residence, he refused and ultimately became belligerent … Accordingly, we find the trial court did not err.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Williams, 2020 – Ohio – 4200.
This case was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.
There may have been other charges that Mr. Williams could have been charged such as Burglary or Trespass. However, each appellate case does not always include all the information that officers make given exculpatory evidence and other factors that influence decision making in the moment. For this reason, the lessons learned will focus the charge of Obstructing Official Business only.
- Ohio Revised Code § 2921.31 (A) Obstructing Official Business – No person, without privilege to do so and with purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay the performance by a public official of any authorized act within the public official’s official capacity, shall do any act that hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of the public official’s lawful duties.
- To sustain a charge of Obstructing Official Business the suspect must impede law enforcement investigation into a crime or other official duties. Common errors that I have witnessed that officers make when improperly charging this statute is when a suspect is argumentative, insulting officers and/or using profanity, and failing to identify themselves. There may be other charges that are valid but these are some of the common errors make when charging Obstructing Official Business.
- In this case, Mr. Williams clearly obstructed Officers Dilley, Eveland and Lindsey from investigating his unlawful entry and trespass at 820 Washington Avenue, Lancaster, Ohio. One of the keys to sustaining a conviction of Obstructing Official Business is repeated warnings to comply. In this case the officers did well to provide those warnings, document the warnings and all were recorded on body worn cameras. Unless a suspect becomes violent, officers should always provide repeated, valid, and loud warnings to a suspect. Warnings are important no matter the criminal charge as that provides clarity for the court, the public and suspect that the officer is giving lawful orders. Officers Dilley, Eveland and Lindsey should be commended for their work in arresting Mr. Williams!
Does your agency train on Obstructing Official Business?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!