Cops mistakenly converge on wrong home in Struthers
By John W. Goodwin Jr.
A case of mistaken identity nearly roped a Struthers family into one of the largest drug sweeps in the area this year.
Doreen Fox of Lewis Street, Struthers, was home with her 30-year-old son Wednesday morning preparing to leave for a doctor’s appointment when she noticed movement outside the home. She opened the front door to a flood of local and federal police.
“They [police] were in my front yard, my rear yard; they had my house surrounded. When I opened the door to see what was going on, there was an officer with a gun out not far from my stomach,” she said. “I am still shaking.”
Officers informed Doreen they were looking for her 24-year-old son, David Fox, in connection with a large-scale heroin operation.
The problem is David Fox, at least the David Fox from Lewis Street, is a third-year law student in Cincinnati and working for a government agency in Columbus during the summer.
Local, state and federal agents did fan out across the area Wednesday in search of 62 people wanted in a major heroin ring that has operated around the Youngstown area for several years.
By the end of the day, 32 people had been taken into custody — 16 on state charges and 16 facing federal charges. Police and federal agents still are searching for the remaining 30 suspected drug dealers.
Doreen Fox said she had to make it clear to officers standing at her door that her son, David Fox, is not one of those drug dealers. Her other son called David in Columbus to inform him, and David thought his older brother was joking.
David Fox said he was stunned to find this was no joke; police were actually looking to arrest him for illegal drug sales — even going through the family garden in search of illegal substances.
“They were kind of just rummaging around. Then they went into the garden and were kind of just sniffing around. We are growing parsley, basil and other stuff, but they were really interested in the basil,” she said.
Doreen said the officers had a current picture of her son and did not at first believe there was a case of mistaken identity. She said after much discussion, the officers realized the mistake and were apologetic to the family. The police were at the house about 15 minutes and at no point were rude or disrespectful, she added.
Doreen still wants to know how such a mis- take could happen. She is grateful her son was not home at the time of the incident because she fears he would have been taken into custody without time to explain.
Bob Balzano, resident agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, acknowledged that a mistake in the identity of one suspected drug dealer led police to the Fox household, but he stressed that officers did not forcefully enter or search the home. He confirmed officers apologized to the family for the mistake.
“The two men showed the same name and some other particulars, but the agents did what they were supposed to do — asking questions, following up and then moving on,” Balzano said.
Balzano said officers did catch up with the wanted David Fox. The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department website does show a David Fox currently in the county jail.
The federal indictment for which the series of raids took place centers on the distribution network of a group of dealers mainly on the East Side of Youngstown.
According to the federal indictment, Luis Angel Martinez, 33, of Youngstown would obtain heroin from sources in Youngstown, New York City and Buffalo, N.Y., for distribution in Youngstown. The indictment says Martinez would then distribute the drugs to lower-level dealers for distribution in the area.
The indictment says the lower-level dealers also would take turns staffing a cellphone used by Martinez for drug distribution.
David Fox does not appear in the federal indictment, but there are 37 people facing state charges and their names have not yet been released. Those 37 people are facing charges ranging from possession of drugs to trafficking in heroin.