SIDNEY – A Shelby County Common Pleas Court jury found Jonathan Rashad Rivers, 35, of Sidney, not guilty on a drug charge following a one-day trial on Aug. 30.
Rivers was indicted on one charge of the illegal conveyance of a prohibited item onto the grounds of a detention facility, a third-degree felony. He was accused of knowingly conveying a substance containing Tramadol, cocaine and Fentanyl into the Shelby County Jail.
The main argument for the defense was whether Rivers knew he was in possession of the substance when he entered the Shelby County Jail on June 3, 2020. The substance was found in his sock in the corner of a baggie when he was instructed to remove his socks and shoes by corrections officers. Rivers’s attorney and the assistant public defender for Shelby County, Christopher Wesner, called the substance a “minuscule amount” in his opening statement since the toxicology report said the substance amounted to 1/10 of a gram. He argued since Rivers was going through drug withdrawal at the time he would have ingested the substance if he would have known it was there.
The first witness to testify on behalf of the state of Ohio was Officer Kyle Gee of the Englewood Police Department; formerly a deputy of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Gee responded to a call at the house where Rivers was located and transported him to the jail. He described Rivers’s demeanor as energetic, fidgety and uncooperative. He said Rivers did not look ill but kept reaching for his pockets. Gee asked Rivers more than once if he had drugs on him since the charges against him would be higher if he brought drugs into the jail, but he denied it each time. Gee could not say for sure how big the bag of drugs was.
The second witness was Nick Topp of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office; formerly a corrections officer in the Shelby County Jail and the booking officer at the time of Rivers’s intake. He handled the substance first and said it was penny to nickel sized. Topp also described Rivers’s demeanor as energetic, but not nervous, and said he didn’t appear sick. When Topp questioned Rivers about the substance, he said matter of fact that it was flour from his kitchen.
The state’s third witness was Jeff Morris of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He held his fingers a couple of inches apart to describe how big the bag with the substance was.
The defendant’s only testimony was from Rivers who described the events of that day and the amount of drugs that he perceived were present. His past convictions were brought up, including two charges of drug trafficking, counterfeiting and failure to appear, and he said he entered guilty pleas to these charges because he knew he was guilty, save the counterfeit charge, which he said he was offered a plea deal for pleading guilty. He said he appeared energetic because of an altercation with his ex-girlfriend and he called the police to get away from the fighting. He equated the drugs found to a piece of rice, which he demonstrated by tearing off a pinch of a tissue nearby during the testimony. He said if he knew he had drugs he would have disposed of it before the police arrived.
“I’m 35 years old and I’ve been going to jail since I was 18 or 19 years old,” Rivers said. “I know the procedure; I knew how I’d be searched.”
Although Rivers said he called the police, the state called upon a fourth witness after his testimony that disputed his claims. Scott Hoelscher, the communication supervisor for the Shelby County Sheriff’s dispatch office, presented a call log for that day which stated that a female called about domestic trouble at 9:52 a.m. followed by a call from Jake Hatfield stating his sister and her ex-boyfriend were fighting.
In Shelby County Prosecutor Timothy Sell’s closing argument for the state, he said Rivers’s testimony was hard to follow, and that Rivers said he called the police to make his story more believable that he didn’t know he had drugs on him.
“There’s zero chance that it just slipped his mind and he forgot that he had drugs on his person,” Sell said.
Wesner said in his closing argument that the bag could have gotten stuck to Rivers’s foot while he was walking barefoot through the house he was staying in and he doesn’t believe that addicts know exactly where their substances are at all times as Sell said.
“The government’s case fails because they didn’t meet this burden,” Wesner said regarding the burden of proof.
Before making their decision, the jurors had the opportunity to view the drugs that were left after the toxicology report. They were sealed in a vial that was contained in a bag, and a deputy was present at all times with the bag.
Other notable moments included a juror talking to other jurors about the case over break – which did not result in any action being taken by the court – and Wesner moving for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Criminal Rule 29. The rule states that a judge can acquit a defendant if the government’s evidence is too weak for a jury to decide guilt. Judge James Stevenson denied the request.