Mr. Blair’s behavior made any attempt at processing him impossible and forced the officers to physically carry him to their police cruiser and then transport him to the Montgomery County Jail, where there would be more assistance. Mr. Blair’s conviction for obstructing official business was supported by sufficient evidence and was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
State v. Blair
Second District Appellate Court
Montgomery County, Ohio
January 13, 2023
In the early morning hours of Saturday October 16, 2021, Officer Josh Labensky was on foot patrol at the Yellow Rose Nightclub, a bar in West Carrollton. He frequently patrolled there around closing time to ensure that patrons exited the establishment and departed in a relatively orderly and safe fashion. On that particular night, he was summoned inside the bar, where he witnessed two males, Mr. Bruce Denney (the manager of the bar) and a man later identified as Mr. William Blair Jr., struggling on the ground. When Officer Labensky got to the spot where the men were skirmishing, Mr. Denney let Mr. Blair up and released him into Officer Labensky’s custody. Mr. Blair was still uncooperative and aggressive, even with officers, so he was placed in handcuffs and led to a police cruiser to cool off; Officer Labensky came back inside and investigated what had just transpired.
Mr. William Blair Junior went to the Yellow Rose Nightclub at 854 Watertower Lane in West Carrollton on Saturday October 16, 2021. After rolling on the floor with the manager, he would later be arrested and his actions led to an appeal.
Officer Labensky spoke with Mr. Denney, who explained that he had had multiple run-ins with Mr. Blair that night. The first was a simple dress code violation – Mr. Blair had a hood up inside the establishment – and when Mr. Denney tried to address it, Mr. Blair was “very militant, very hostile.” The situation that led to the altercation between Mr. Blair and Mr. Denney started with Mr. Denney’s trying to resolve an argument that Mr. Blair’s brother was having with some girls. While Mr. Denney was trying to sort things out, Mr. Blair inserted himself into the situation with an empty glass in his hand that he was “holding kind of like a baseball.” Mr. Blair’s aggressive posture concerned Mr. Denney, so he grabbed the glass away from him. This caused Mr. Blair to “square up” with Mr. Denney, and the fight ensued.
Mr. Denney indicated that he did not want criminal charges filed. Officer Labensky returned to the cruiser to release Mr. Blair from custody. As soon as he opened the cruiser’s door, however, “[Mr. Blair] was … very aggressive and hostile.” Officer Labensky repeatedly tried to calm Mr. Blair down and remove the handcuffs, but Mr. Blair’s aggressiveness was escalating. Mr. Blair’s brother and other friends also tried to calm him down, but he would not listen to them either; instead, he accused the police of abducting and kidnapping him. Other officers arrived on scene and likewise failed to calm Mr. Blair down. Finally, Sergeant Jeremy Branham determined that “enough was enough,” [this is cop-speak for ‘we have probable cause’] and Mr. Blair was arrested for persistent disorderly conduct and transported to the West Carrollton police station for processing.
At the police station, Mr. Blair continued to demonstrate aggression and non- compliance. Officers again tried to release Mr. Blair from the handcuffs, but he became unresponsive and threw himself onto the floor, lying in the fetal position; he refused to answer basic identification questions and continued to accuse the officers of various crimes. Due to his non-compliance, Mr. Blair was dragged out of the processing room and transported to the Montgomery County Jail.
On October 18, 2021, Mr. Blair was charged by way of criminal complaint with obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor; persistent disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor; and failure to disclose personal information, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. The case proceeded to a jury trial on December 15, 2021. During trial, the State presented testimony from Mr. Denney and three West Carrollton police officers involved in the case. Officer Labensky’s body-camera video as well as video from the processing room at the West Carrollton police station were also admitted as exhibits.
Ultimately, the jury found Mr. Blair guilty as charged, and he was sentenced to 90 days in jail with 60 days suspended; he was also given credit for one day served. On February 1, 2022, Mr. Blair filed this appeal, which raises two assignments of error. We will address the assignments in a manner that facilitates our analysis.
Persistent Disorderly Conduct
According to O.R.C. §2917.11(A)(1), a person shall not recklessly cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm to another by engaging in fighting, threatening to harm persons or property, or in violent/turbulent behavior. “Turbulent behavior” is “tumultuous behavior” or “unruly conduct” characterized by a violent disturbance or commotion.
Typically, disorderly conduct is a minor misdemeanor, however, if the offender persists in the conduct after a reasonable warning or request, the offense becomes a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. O.R.C. §2917.11(E)(3)(a). Or as in this case, like SO many others, there were MULTIPLE warnings that go way beyond ‘a reasonable warning’.
In this case, Mr. Blair was guilty of disorderly conduct. Officer Labensky testified that after learning that Mr. Denney did not want to pursue charges against Mr. Blair, he went back to his cruiser to release him. However, Labensky was unable to explain the situation to Mr. Blair because “as soon as [he] opened the door, [Mr. Blair] was verbal, very aggressive and hostile toward [him].” Officers tried over and over to remove the handcuffs from Mr. Blair’s wrists, but he was so aggressive that they could not. Sergeant Branham recounted that officers made at least ten attempts to get Mr. Blair to calm down so they could remove the handcuffs, but when he still would not comply, the decision was made to arrest Mr. Blair. The body camera footage affirms this testimony. The video showed Officer Labensky try to calm Mr. Blair down and explain that he was not in trouble and that he was not going to jail, but Mr. Blair continued to be aggressive and non-compliant. At one point, another officer attempted to remove Mr. Blair’s handcuffs, and he physically jerked away. On multiple occasions Mr. Blair even accused the officers of kidnapping and abducting him.
Mr. Blair’s repeated refusals to cooperate were an inconvenience to the officers and constituted “tumultuous behavior” and “unruly conduct” characterized by a violent disturbance. Mr. Blair’s conviction for persistent disorderly conduct was supported by sufficient evidence and was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Obstructing Official Business
According to O.R.C. §2921.31(A), “[N]o person [not even Mr. Blair] 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.” The offense of obstructing official business, therefore, includes five essential elements: “(1) an act by the defendant, (2) done with the purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay a public official, (3) that actually hampers or impedes a public official, (4) while the official is acting in the performance of a lawful duty, and (5) the defendant so acts without privilege.”
Further, to violate the statute, a defendant must engage in an affirmative or overt act that impedes a public official in the performance of his or her duties.
Here, Mr. Blair repeatedly refused to cooperate with officers. Mr. Blair walked under his own power into the police station, but as soon as he got to the processing room and his handcuffs were removed, he collapsed on the floor in the fetal position and refused to respond to basic booking questions or sit in the chair as requested. Mr. Blair’s behavior made any attempt at processing him impossible and forced the officers to physically carry him to their police cruiser and then transport him to the Montgomery County Jail, where there would be more assistance.
Mr. Blair’s conviction for obstructing official business was supported by sufficient evidence and was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Failure to Disclose Personal Information
Pursuant to O.R.C. §2921.29(A)(1), “[N]o person who is in a public place shall refuse to disclose the person’s name, address, or date of birth, when requested by a law enforcement officer who reasonably suspects [that] the person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.” This subsection of O.R.C. §2921.29 applies to questioning in the context of an investigative detention and not to questions asked during a consensual encounter.
The resolution of this argument revolves around the definition of a “public place.” “Public place” is not defined in O.R.C. §2921.29, the failure to disclose personal information law, nor is it explained in O.R.C. §2901.01, the section of the Revised Code that gives definitions for words used in our criminal statutes. In fact, our research has only found “public place” defined once in the entirety of the Ohio Revised Code: in O.R.C. 3794.01, the definitional section of Ohio’s public smoking ban. It defines “public place” as “an enclosed area to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted and that is not a private residence.” O.R.C. 3794.01(B). Black’s Law Dictionary gives us a similar definition. It states that a “public place” is “any location that the local, state, or national government maintains for the use of the public, such as a highway, park, or public building.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). By synthesizing those definitions, we can conclude that in this case, a “public place” is a building where the public – ordinary citizens – are regularly permitted to be.
Here, there is little evidence, either from the trial transcript or body camera videos, that officers asked Mr. Blair to identify himself at the Yellow Rose. At the 24:03 minute mark of the body camera video, Officer Labensky tells another officer “[H]e won’t give me his name. I don’t have his name,” and, while that could imply that Officer Labensky had asked for Mr. Blair’s identification, the body camera video, which was recording the entire time Officer Labensky and Mr. Blair interacted, did not show that Mr. Blair was ever asked to identify himself. In fact, during his trial testimony, Officer Labensky admitted that he did not ask Mr. Blair to identify himself prior to being driven to the police station. The State in its brief, argues that the “record is clear that officers asked for Appellant’s information on scene at the Yellow Rose.” but that contention is belied by the record.
Officers, though, did ask Mr. Blair to identify himself once in the processing room at the police station. The question before us, therefore, is whether the processing room inside the police station is a “public place.”
Using the definition that we suggested earlier that a “public place” is somewhere ordinary citizens are regularly permitted to be, it is evident that part – but not all – of a police station is a public place. For instance, the lobby or front desk area of a police station would likely be considered a public place; citizens can come and go freely, and it is a space maintained for the public. The secure locations inside the police station – places that ordinary citizens cannot go or can go only when accompanied by authorized personnel (i.e., police officers) – are not “public places.”
In this case, Mr. Blair was escorted by Officer Paige Callahan and Officer Labensky inside a locked back door of the West Carrollton police headquarters and into a secure room. Once the door they entered through was closed and the officers had deposited their firearms into a lock box, the trio went through another locked door, down a secure hallway, and into the processing room. It was in the processing room that, according to the body camera video, Officer Callahan first asked Mr. Blair to identify himself and he refused.
Because Mr. Blair was asked and refused to identify himself in a place that was not public, we conclude that his conviction for failure to disclose personal information was not supported by sufficient evidence and was against the weight of the evidence.
Because we find that Mr. Blair’s convictions for persistent disorderly conduct and obstructing official business were supported by sufficient evidence and were not against the manifest weight of the evidence, his assignments of error are overruled as to those counts. Mr. Blair’s conviction for failure to disclose personal information was not supported by sufficient evidence and was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and therefore, the assignments of error are sustained as to that count.
Mr. Blair’s conviction for failure to disclose personal information will be vacated. The trial court’s judgment as to persistent disorderly conduct and obstructing official business will be affirmed.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Blair, 2023 – Ohio – 88.
This case was issued by the Second District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami and Montgomery.
- This incident is reflective of so many bar patrons who are impaired and lack reasonable decision making, where law enforcement is called to be peacemakers at the Yellow Rose’s throughout the state and country.In this case Mr. Blair was initially detained to determine what was the cause of his Yellow Rose roll with Mr. Denney. The West Carrollton officers were going to release him, but Mr. Blair could not help himself and continued his bombastic tirade, which lead to his arrest. The officers did well to document Mr. Blair’s behavior which was confirmed by the body worn camera video as the court identified “The body camera footage affirms this testimony.”. The key to this arrest was the repeated warnings and the documentation of those warnings.
- Blair’s conviction for Obstructing Official Business was also upheld as once again the officers did well to identify and document his behavior during processing; “Mr. Blair walked under his own power into the police station, but as soon as he got to the processing room and his handcuffs were removed, he collapsed on the floor in the fetal position and refused to respond to basic booking questions or sit in the chair as requested. Mr. Blair’s behavior made any attempt at processing him impossible and forced the officers to physically carry him to their police cruiser and then transport him to the Montgomery County Jail, where there would be more assistance.”. So many officers have similar interactions with impaired, uncooperative and recalcitrant suspects where they have to be dragged through the booking room. Now, this case will provide future courts with a significant legal guidepost for upholding Obstructing Official Business charges in the future.
- The Failure to Disclose Personal Information conviction was overturned because the prosecution could not prove that Mr. Blair was asked his name prior to the booking room. Specifically, the court opined “At the 24:03 minute mark of the body camera video, Officer Labensky tells another officer “[H]e won’t give me his name. I don’t have his name,” and, while that could imply that Officer Labensky had asked for Mr. Blair’s identification, the body camera video, which was recording the entire time Officer Labensky and Mr. Blair interacted, did not show that Mr. Blair was ever asked to identify himself.”. R.C. §2921.29(A)(1), states in pertinent part “[N]o person who is in a public place shall refuse …” [emphasis added]. Here the court determined that law enforcement did not ask Mr. Blair his personal information while at the Yellow Rose and that the booking room is not a ‘public place’.
- Overall, the officers demonstrated highly professional reasonableness throughout this entire incident with Mr. Blair. Officer Labensky, Officer Callahan and Sgt. Branham should be highly commended for their professionalism and decision-making. Well done WPD!
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