Upkins found guilty of drug trafficking


By Kimberly Pistone

For the Sidney Daily News

SIDNEY – A Shelby County Common Pleas Court jury found Lamone E. Upkins, aka Lemone E. Upkins, 55, of Sidney, guilty on five counts of drug trafficking in a trial lasting two days.

The case hinged on testimony from a confidential informant (CI) who made five controlled drug buys from Upkins in 2021. A controlled buy is a process the Shelby County and Sidney Police Departments use to help identify people involved in the local drug trade. The police department is unable to use undercover officers since this is a small town where the police are easily identifiable.

In his opening statement, William Zimmerman, prosecuting attorney, asked the jury to not lose sight of the facts and to rely on what they would see and hear during the course of the trial. Zimmerman said, “You’re a victim. So am I. Why? Because that man brought and trafficked drugs into our community.”

In her opening statement, Laura Waymire, the attorney for the defendant, questioned if the CI was a trustworthy witness since he has a criminal record and is currently in jail. Waymire also reminded the jury that the state has the burden of proof and must prove each element of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The first witness to testify was Shelby County Engineer Robert Geuy, who confirmed the location of several of the buys was within 1,000 feet of Northwood School. This was based on GIS located maps which the county uses to calculate property values.

The second witness was the CI. The CI said the reason he reached out to the police department to be a confidential informant was because he was in a bad place and needed the money – the police paid him $70 for each controlled buy he was involved in. He said he would call Detective Mark Brunson and ask if he could set up a buy. Once that was arranged, he would call Upkins to ask if he could buy drugs. He did this five times. He said he purchased methamphetamine, crack cocaine, weed and Suboxone.

The next two witnesses were Sgt. Ethan Brown and Brunson, both of the Sidney Police Department. During their testimony they explained how a controlled buy with a CI works. In a controlled buy, the CI communicates with the police department and sets up a drug purchase. The CI meets with an officer from the drug unit at an undisclosed location where the CI and his vehicle is thoroughly searched. The CI is set up with a recording device which livestreams the buy as well as records it. The police officers then follow the CI to the location of the buy and back to the undisclosed meeting location. Once the buy is complete, the CI is thoroughly searched again, and a debrief interview is recorded. The drugs are placed into evidence bags and sent to a lab to be tested.

Brown confirmed the dates of the buys – ranging from August through September 2021 – as well as the location of the buys. Brown was in charge of searching the CI’s vehicle before and after each controlled buy and was the driver of the surveillance vehicle, while Brunson was the one recording video surveillance. Waymire questioned if they had eyes on the CI the entire time, and Brown said they did not – there were times when the CI entered a building briefly or when they lost sight of his vehicle for a few moments when following him in traffic. Brown said, “We need confidential informants. We have to use other folks to complete our mission. Everyone knows we are cops.”

Next Brunson took the stand. He added to what Brown testified and said, “A CI is anyone who has the means and capability to purchase drugs. They have to have working knowledge of the local drug trade.” He explained the vetting process for a CI, which includes asking who the CI knows, and verifying that information with knowledge from other sources. He said the CI does not have the ability to turn the recording on and off or to tamper with it in any way. He also said that some CIs work for money, others work to get a better term in prison or a good recommendation.

During Brunson’s testimony, Zimmerman introduced a flash drive as evidence. The flash drive contained all the videos and audio from each controlled buy. Zimmerman showed the videos from each buy and Brunson was able to describe what was going on.

The first buy shows the CI as he enters the apartment building, goes to a door, the door is opened and then the CI leaves. The whole exchange took seconds. The video and audio were unclear, but the officers keep a time log of the entire event to match the video. After logging the drugs as evidence, they were sent to be tested at the Ohio BCI in London, and were confirmed to be cocaine.

The second buy occurred in a parking lot and the officers were able to video the actual transaction. They also had a recording of the phone call the CI made to Upkins. This buy took place within 1000 feet of Northwood School. The video Brunson recorded shows the CI’s vehicle, shows Upkins walking up to the vehicle, and that instead of money, Upkins took a CD player as trade. The video the CI recorded is pixelated and Brunson testified this area has bad cell service and all videos recorded in this area are hard to see. After logging the evidence, the drugs were sent to be tested at the Ohio BCI and confirmed to be methamphetamine.

During the third buy, the CI drove Upkins from one location to another. The audio recorded the CI and Upkins discussing someone else looking for drugs, and Upkins responding that he will only do the buy if the CI is the one to get it. This is the only video where you can see Upkins’ face, which was shown during the car ride. After the controlled buy, the drugs were sent to the Ohio BCI and confirmed to be cocaine.

The fourth buy occurred immediately after the third. The police recorded the call between the CI and Upkins, where the CI said he knew someone who wanted drugs.

The CI went to the apartment where he dropped off Upkins and the purchase was made in the doorway, inside the building and out of the sight of the police officers. Afterward, the drugs were sent to the Ohio BCI and confirmed to be cocaine.

The fifth buy took place at the apartment complex again. After this buy, the drugs were sent to the Ohio BCI and confirmed to be Buprenorphine (Suboxone), a schedule III controlled substance.

Brunson said all the videos are true and accurate representations of the buys. During the cross examination, Waymire questioned clerical details where the written report did not match Brunson’s testimony, such as the wrong year in one report or the written report not mentioning that Upkins took a CD player instead of during one buy. Zimmerman questioned Brunson who confirmed that he had no doubts that his testimony was accurate even with clerical errors because the video and audio recording match the testimony.

After the prosecution rested, outside the presence of the jury but still on record, Zimmerman asked Judge James Stevenson to disallow information from a jury case three weeks ago involving Upkins’ uncle, Bruce Upkins. While this trial includes five charges, the original indictment included a sixth charge for intimidation of a witness in a criminal case, a third degree felony. The sixth charge was dismissed on February. Stevenson, objecting to the fact that information from the previous jury trial was not included. Lamone Upkins asked, “Why are you hiding it from the jury?” Stevenson instructed Upkins to not discuss the sixth charge since it was dismissed. Stevenson also informed Upkins that if he ignored the ruling he could be held for contempt.

The second day of the trial Waymire called Upkins to testify. Upkins said he knew the CI through his uncle and that he bought tools from the CI but never sold drugs to him.

Zimmerman asked Upkins if he had any previous drug convictions. Upkins said he was convicted of trafficking in 2016. Upkins was belligerent and made several outbursts while being questioned by Zimmerman. Stevenson told Upkins to only respond to the questions that were asked.

After Upkins was dismissed the defense rested and the attorneys made their closing statements. Zimmerman asked the jury to consider that the only defense Upkins’ had suggested that the CI was a criminal mastermind who hid drugs in order to set up Upkins, and asked “How plausible is that?”

Waymire reminded the jury that her client had nothing to prove, and that all elements had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. She also questioned the trustworthiness of the CI who was paid to do controlled buys.

Zimmerman gave the final statement, asking the jury to use common sense and find the defendant guilty, and that doing so would “help keep our streets safe from things like this” as he held up a bag of drugs.

The jury deliberated for two and a half hours before finding Upkins guilty on one count trafficking in drugs, a fifth degree felony, for selling or offering to sell cocaine; one count aggravated trafficking in drugs, a third degree felony for selling or offering to sell methamphetamine in the vicinity of a school; one count trafficking in drugs, a fourth degree felony, for selling or offering to sell cocaine; one count trafficking in drugs, a fifth degree felony, for selling or offering to sell cocaine; and one count trafficking in drugs, a fourth degree felony, for selling or offering to sell Buprenorphine (Suboxone) in the vicinity of a school. The jury did not find count three to be in the vicinity of a school.

Upkins will be sentenced on March 29.

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