By Peter H. Milliken
Sgt. Thomas J. Assion, formerly a commander in the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, told investigators “his sole purpose” in going to the scene of a May 26 Canfield Township traffic stop “was to get Michael Sciortino out of a DUI,” and that he got involved because Sciortino, county auditor, is “a good friend” of his.
Those comments were released Monday by the sheriff’s office, but Sheriff Jerry Greene said he had nothing to add to his previous statement that he was first furious, and then embarrassed, over the incident, in which Assion drove Sciortino home in Sciortino’s car.
Sciortino, 42, of Austintown, paid a $50 fine and $80 in court costs after being charged only with failing to drive within marked lanes. Assion said he asked Sgt. James Touville of the sheriff’s office to cite Sciortino for the marked-lanes offense.
Assion said he telephoned Touville, who made the traffic stop, asking Touville if Assion could take Sciortino home — and if Touville would “forgo the DUI thing,” and that Touville agreed to do so.
Touville had informed Assion that he already had radioed to the dispatcher that he had made an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. Touville made the stop after an employee of the Canfield Wendy’s called 911 to report her concerns about a possibly impaired driver, who apparently had fallen asleep after leaving the drive-through lane.
When he arrived at the scene of the traffic stop on U.S. Route 224 near Raccoon Road at 12:10 a.m., Assion said he perceived Sciortino to be “out of it and drunk.”
Sciortino declined to comment beyond his previous apology for letting his friends, family and supporters down. Assion and Touville could not be reached for comment.
“Commander Assion stated the truth is Michael Sciortino was drunk and Sgt. Touville, as his friend, agreed to release Michael Sciortino and not arrest him for DUI,” the investigative report from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office said.
After driving Sciortino home, Assion said he texted sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Allen that Sciortino was “home safe.” It was Allen who first alerted Assion after Allen got a call from Lt. Stephen McGeary. McGeary had received a call from Touville.
Because of this incident, Greene demoted Assion from commander to Assion’s previous rank of sergeant, resulting in a $19,000 annual pay cut for Assion.
The sheriff suspended Allen for 10 days without pay for failing to immediately inform the sheriff about what happened.
Touville told investigators Sciortino “failed miserably” on the field sobriety test, had “a slurred to mush mouth speech” and fumbled for his driver’s license, but did not smell of alcohol.
Touville is facing the departmental disciplinary procedure prescribed by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141 union contract. Touville should have insisted on taking Sciortino to the Canfield police station for a Breathalyzer test, Greene said.
As far as he knew, Greene said Sciortino never asked for any favors during the traffic stop.
Assion and the other sheriff’s department personnel involved in the Sciortino case were interviewed by investigators from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. That office probed the matter at Greene’s request because Greene said he wanted to avoid any bias.
After Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains referred the matter to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, a spokeswoman for that office said the matter has been referred to the AG’s special prosecutions unit.
In a July 2 news conference, Greene said he did not think Assion’s behavior rose to the level of obstructing justice.
Assion told the investigators he had never before been called in reference to a patrol division drunken-driving arrest and that he had made a mistake in judgment, which “gave the department a negative spotlight.”
Assion told the investigators the suggestion Sciortino may have had a medical problem was presented to him “days after the incident” and that Touville never advised Assion of any medical issues with Sciortino at the time of the traffic stop.
Two days after the traffic stop, Assion told investigators he asked Touville to come to his residence, and instructed Touville “not to cover anything up” because the sheriff had sought an outside investigation and the FBI also was investigating.
The Summit County investigators said FBI agents interviewed Sciortino on May 31 about the traffic stop, but Greene declined to release the FBI report of the interview that had been provided to him.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agents’ interview with Sciortino did not pertain to the traffic stop, but declined to specify the subject matter of the interview.