The record reflects that Mr. Morrow acted with a purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay jail personnel and hampered or impeded jail personnel in the performance of their lawful duties, namely maintaining order in the jail and preventing Mr. Morrow from harming himself or them, without privilege to do so.

 

State v. Morrow

2023 – Ohio – 2891

Second District Appellate Court

Champaign County, Ohio

August 18, 2023

 

Jacob has a Bombastic Tirade while at the Tri-County Regional Jail

Ms. Katherine Halterman testified that she was employed at the Tri-County Regional Jail as a licensed practical nurse on July 1, 2022. While in the booking area of the jail, she observed Mr. Jacob Morrow, in a booking cell, “kicking and hitting the door and screaming and yelling.” Ms. Halterman observed jail personnel remove Mr. Morrow from his cell and “then try to get him into a restraint chair, at which point he fought them, was thrashing around, yelling, screaming.” As the officers continued to attempt to place Mr. Morrow in the restraint chair, “he was flailing around almost flipping the restraint chair backwards.” Ms. Halterman heard Officer Ryan Bell advise Mr. Morrow, “If you spit on me again, that will be a felony.” Thereafter, the officers were able to secure Mr. Morrow in the restraint chair.

Mr. Jacob Morrow was arrested and slated at the Tri-County Regional Jail in Champaign County, Ohio.  During his processing Mr. Morrow had a bombastic tirade and was later charged with Obstructing Official Business O.R.C. §2921.31(A) and O.R.C. §2921.38 (C) Harassment by Inmate.  The latter charge was based on his spitting at the corrections officers.

The Only Thing about Mr. Morrow that was Positive was His Hepatitis C

Ms. Halterman further testified that Bell had advised her that Mr. Morrow’s saliva had “landed on his cheek and some had gotten into his eye”; she advised him to flush his eye with water, wash his face, and then proceed to the hospital. The stipulation regarding Mr. Morrow’s status as a carrier of hepatitis was read into the record, and Ms. Halterman identified August 23, 2022 lab results from testing she ordered that reflected Mr. Morrow was positive for hepatitis C. According to Ms. Halterman, hepatitis C can be spread “through any bodily fluid, blood, saliva, mouth to mouth.”

Violent Behavior Results in a Sack Lunch

Ryan Cantrell testified that he was a corrections officer at the Tri-County Jail on July 1, 2022. At the beginning of his shift that day, at 4:00 p.m., Cantrell learned that Mr. Morrow “had been in an escalated state throughout the day” and was agitated, upset and angry. Cantrell testified that Mr. Morrow was “hitting windows with his fists [and] donkey kicking the door,” which caused concern for the facility and for Mr. Morrow. Cantrell described “donkey kicking” as “rear facing the door and kicking back towards [the] door striking the door with his foot.” Cantrell stated that Mr. Morrow could have hurt himself by kicking the door that way: “break his foot, he could hit it the wrong way, fall down, land at an awkward angle, hurt himself that way.” Cantrell testified that Mr. Morrow was repeatedly ordered to cease his disruptive behavior, and eventually the officers decided to provide Mr. Morrow with a sack lunch rather than serve his lunch on a tray, because the tray could “be used as a weapon within the cell to either damage our facility or harm himself with it or harm others if they have to go in there and get it.” Cantrell indicated that Mr. Morrow reacted by “throwing a fit over not getting a regular tray.”

Mr. Morrow is Maced

Cantrell testified that jail policy on how to manage disruptive inmates begins with commands to cease the disruptive behavior; if the commands are unsuccessful, pepper spray may be used to gain compliance. If the misbehavior continues, officers may make use of the restraint chair to prevent the inmate “from damaging the facility or harming themselves or others.” Cantrell’s sergeant instructed that, if Mr. Morrow continued to kick the door, pepper spray would have to be used “as a next step of intervention.” Cantrell then opened Mr. Morrow’s cell door two to three feet and sprayed him with pepper spray on the right side of his face in a one- to two-second burst. Cantrell did not observe any indication that Mr. Morrow had been sprayed in the eyes, nose, or mouth, but he observed redness on the side of his face. Mr. Morrow began kicking the door again and then went to the sink in his cell to “wash himself down.” According to Cantrell, Mr. Morrow’s agitated state lasted a “few hours.”

Mr. Morrow is Ordered Into a Restraint Chair

Cantrell’s sergeant eventually gave an order to place Mr. Morrow in the restraint chair, which was used to “ensure that [inmates] are not harming themselves or others” during a violent episode. Cantrell stated that the chair allows officers to restrain an inmate’s arms, legs, and chest area. Officers Bell, Stroble, and Taylor assisted in placing Mr. Morrow in the chair, and Mr. Morrow “started to thrust and try to break free * * *, became agitated again.” Mr. Morrow was “screaming” and “threatening.” According to Cantrell, the officers feared getting hit, kicked, or spit on, or potentially falling at an awkward angle, which could hurt them or the inmate. Cantrell stated that Mr. Morrow spit on Officer Bell while Mr. Morrow was in the restraint chair and Bell was “around his legs.” Officer Stroble moved Mr. Morrow’s face to the right to prevent him from spitting again.

Sack Lunch Spitting Tantrum

Officer Ryan Bell testified that when he arrived in the booking area on July 1, 2022, Mr. Morrow was angry about being given a sack lunch and “very belligerent.” His testimony about Mr. Morrow’s violent behavior, the commands that he cease the violent behavior, and the officers’ concerns for his and their own safety was consistent with Cantrell’s testimony. Bell stated that five minutes had elapsed between the time when Cantrell sprayed Mr. Morrow with pepper spray and Mr. Morrow’s removal from the cell to be placed in the restraint chair. Bell stated that Mr. Morrow spit on him during the struggle; while Bell was attempting to strap in one of Mr. Morrow’s feet, a “large wet spot” hit his face, with a portion reaching his left eye. Bell advised Mr. Morrow, “You continue to [do] that, you’re going to get a felony.”  

Mr. Morrow Apologized

A surveillance video of the officers’ placing Mr. Morrow in the restraint chair was played for the jury. Bell testified that after he had advised his shift supervisor about being spit on, a nurse had reviewed Mr. Morrow’s medical history and it was decided that Bell should “be given Workers’ Comp stuff” and then go immediately to the hospital. Bell stated that a couple of days later, Mr. Morrow apologized for his actions during their previous encounter. Bell stated that testing revealed that he had not been infected with hepatitis.

Mr. Morrow Testified he was Calm …

But Then Why Would He have had to Apologize?

In his defense, Mr. Morrow testified that he had kicked the cell door only one time, and there “was nobody in any harm’s way whatsoever.” He testified that he had walked calmly to the restraint chair and allowed the officers to restrain him. Mr. Morrow stated that he had not intentionally spit on anyone. On cross-examination, Mr. Morrow stated that he had kicked the door twice and that the second time was after he had been warned that if he kicked the door again, he would be pepper sprayed.

Officers Acted to Prevent Injury to Themselves and Mr. Morrow

When it overruled Mr. Morrow’s motion for acquittal on the obstructing official business charge, the court found that “based on the nature of the struggle to get the defendant into the restraining chair, it was more than a minor annoyance or irritation, but created a risk of physical harm by the aggressive actions of the defendant and the length of time it took.” This conclusion was supported by the evidence. Mr. Morrow, having been in an agitated state for hours, acted affirmatively to obstruct the officers in the performance of their duties at the jail. Mr. Morrow did not merely fail to cooperate with the officers but engaged in an overall pattern of resistance. He initially created a risk of physical harm to himself by continuing to kick the door and hit the windows in his cell after being told not to do so. Cantrell stated that Mr. Morrow risked breaking his foot or falling down and sustaining injury. The officers’ decision not to provide Mr. Morrow’s lunch on a tray due to concern for his and their safety further angered Mr. Morrow. After spraying Mr. Morrow with pepper spray, the officers were ordered to place Mr. Morrow in the restraint chair, as their commands and the pepper spray had not ended the disruption. Mr. Morrow violently struggled to break free from officers while screaming at and threatening them, and the officers, who feared being kicked or hit by Mr. Morrow, acted to prevent injury to themselves and Mr. Morrow.

Video Demonstrates Mr. Morrow Lied

The video of the struggle belies Mr. Morrow’s testimony that he proceeded calmly to the restraint chair and allowed the officers to restrain him. Before he was brought out to the restraint chair, Mr. Morrow could be heard yelling loudly and unintelligibly from inside his cell. Before officers opened his cell door, an officer could be heard saying “get a spit mask,” although one was never produced. When the cell door was opened, a defiant Mr. Morrow was brought out, and his demeanor was not calm but agitated; he continued yelling in an ear-piercing manner. When four fairly-large officers attempted to put Mr. Morrow in the chair, he continued to yell and scream, which was consistent with the testimony of Ms. Halterman, Cantrell, and Bell. While continually thrashing about, thrusting and bending his body in the chair, at one point Mr. Morrow nearly toppled the restraint chair backwards, requiring officers to set it right, while Mr. Morrow continued to yell. At another point an officer could be heard advising Mr. Morrow that if Mr. Morrow spit on him again, there would be a felony charge. The entire encounter trying to get Mr. Morrow into the restraint chair lasted over five minutes and 29 seconds.

Indicted for Harassment with a Bodily Substance and Obstructing Official Business

On August 1, 2022, Mr. Jacob Morrow was indicted on two counts of harassment with a bodily substance and one count of obstructing official business. The indictment alleged that Mr. Morrow had created a risk of physical harm to himself and to Tri-County Regional Jail corrections officers, including Ryan Bell, Tyler Cantrell, and Kevin Stroble, while obstructing official business. Specifically, while being held in a booking cell at the jail, Mr. Morrow had created a lengthy disturbance that resulted in his being pepper sprayed and placed in a restraining chair. Mr. Morrow pled not guilty on August 11, 2022.

Jury Found Mr. Morrow Guilty and he was Sentenced to Eleven Months in Prison for a Bombastic Tirade

Mr. Morrow was tried by a jury in January 2023. At the close of the State’s case, Mr. Morrow moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the trial court denied. Mr. Morrow then presented his defense. The jury found Mr. Morrow guilty of obstructing official business but not guilty of the two counts of harassment with a bodily substance. After a presentence investigation, Mr. Morrow was sentenced to eleven months in prison.

Obstructing Official Business

O.R.C. §2921.31(A) provides: “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.”O.R.C. §2921.31(B) states that obstructing official business is generally a misdemeanor of the second degree, but if the offense “creates a risk of physical harm to any person, obstructing official business is a felony of the fifth degree.” “‘Physical harm to persons’ means any injury, illness, or other psychological impairment, regardless of its gravity or duration.” O.R.C. §2901.01(A)(3).

O.R.C. §2921.31(A) thus 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.” State v. Kates, 2006-Ohio-6779.

Established Case Law

This Court discussed obstructing official business in State v. Body, 2018 – Ohio – 3395 “Ohio courts have consistently held that in order to violate the obstructing official business statute a defendant must engage in some affirmative or overt act or undertaking that hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of the official’s lawful duties, as opposed to merely failing or refusing to cooperate or obey a police officer’s request for information.”

Conclusion

Having reviewed the entire record, we cannot conclude that the jury’s verdict was unsupported by the evidence or that the jury clearly lost its way and created a manifest injustice. The jury credited the testimony of the State’s witnesses on the obstructing official business charge, rather than Mr. Morrow’s testimony, and we defer to the jury’s assessment of credibility. The record reflects that Mr. Morrow acted with a purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay jail personnel and hampered or impeded jail personnel in the performance of their lawful duties, namely maintaining order in the jail and preventing Mr. Morrow from harming himself or them, without privilege to do so. As such, Mr. Morrow’s assignments of error are overruled.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Morrow, 2023 – Ohio – 2891.

State v. Morrow, 2023 – Ohio – 2891 was issued by the Second District Appellate Court on August 18, 2023 and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami and Montgomery.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Obstructing Official Business – When suspects are transported and transferred into jail it can be a very volatile time for corrections officers and Mr. Morrow’s spitting bombastic tirade is a prime example. Here the officers did the best they could with a non-compliant irascible inmate.  To sustain a conviction for Obstructing Official BusinessR.C. §2921.31(A) the prosecution must prove that the defendant made overt acts to impede the officer from a lawful duty.  Here the Second District Appellate Court held “The record reflects that Mr. Morrow acted with a purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay jail personnel and hampered or impeded jail personnel in the performance of their lawful duties, namely maintaining order in the jail and preventing Mr. Morrow from harming himself or them, without privilege to do so.”. The lawful duties that were impeded was the officers duty to maintain order in the jail.  Obviously, this is an under-charged criminal charge as often inmates keep corrections officers from maintaining order.
  2. Spitting Conviction – Morrow was also convicted of O.R.C. §2921.38 (C) Harassment by Inmate which states “No person, with knowledge that the person is a carrier of the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a carrier of a hepatitis virus, or is infected with tuberculosis and with intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person, shall cause or attempt to cause the other person to come into contact with blood, semen, urine, feces, or another bodily substance by throwing the bodily substance at the other person, by expelling the bodily substance upon the other person, or in any other manner.”. Here, Mr. Morrow was Hepatitis C positive and his repeated spitting was violative of this statute.
  3. Pre-Sent Arms! Tri County Corrections Officers Ryan Bell, Tyler Cantrell, and Kevin Stroble and Nurse Ms. Katherine Halterman should all be highly commended for their outstanding professionalism while dealing with a highly uncooperative inmate. Well done team!

Does your agency train on Laws of Arrest?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.