Struthers man loses bid to suppress evidence in 33-pound cocaine bust
A Struthers man, who investigators say was caught with 33 pounds of cocaine, lost his challenge of a common method used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol that many times results in drug arrests.
U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi on Wednesday denied a motion from 34-year-old Frank Martinez, Jr. to suppress the evidence gathered during a March 7 traffic stop in Medina County that led to his indictment on one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Martinez has been held in the Mahoning County Jail since the Trooper pulled over his pickup truck for an improper lane change on Interstate 71 in Medina County and discovered 15 kilos of cocaine stashed under a toolbox.
The defense motion alleged that the Trooper stopped the pickup truck because Martinez allegedly flipped on his turn signal only after he began changing lanes on the interstate.
During what the motion describes as a “prolonged detention” of Martinez, the Trooper questioned him about “matters that had nothing to do” with the alleged traffic violation such as where he was coming from, where he was working and how long he had owned his pickup truck.
The motion gives a version of what happened next:
At some point during the prolonged detention of Mr. Martinez, a canine and its handler appeared on the scene. The canine’s handler walked the canine around the truck for approximately 27 seconds. It is alleged that this canine “indicated” to the odor of an illegal controlled substance during its one pass around Martinez’s vehicle. A law enforcement officer then drove Mr. Martinez’s Ford F350 to an auto and truck repair shop to more fully inspect the vehicle, and ultimately, to have the auxiliary fuel tank in the bed of the truck partially removed and disassembled. During the removal and disassembly of the auxiliary fuel tank, cocaine was discovered beneath this tank.
The motion claimed that a “ prolonged seizure and search of Mr. Martinez and his vehicle after the Trooper’s stated traffic mission should have been completed” was a violation of Martinez's Fourth Amendment rights protecting him against illegal search and seizure.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol frequently posts online reports of troopers making traffic stops for improper lane changes and other violations that lead to the discovery of drugs and other contraband after a drug-sniffing K9 is brought in to inspect the vehicles.
The motion to suppress alleges that video of the canine sniffing Martinez's pickup truck doesn't show the dog alerting to the scent of contraband with either a “passive” or “aggressive” alert.
Calling the questioning of Martinez and subsequent search a “fishing expedition” for evidence, the defense attorney notes that the trooper never cited his client for the alleged traffic violation.
In denying the motion, Judge Lioi noted that Martinez had been the subject of phone record search warrants months before his arrest.
Also, Judge Lioi found that the traffic violation, alert provided by the K9, and scratch marks found by the trooper on the back of the truck, justified the stop and search.