By Peter H. Milliken
A predisciplinary hearing is today for Sgt. James Touville of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office concerning his conduct in a May 26 traffic stop of county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino and his arrest and “unarrest” of the auditor on a potential drunken-driving charge.
Sgt. Thomas Assion, who then held the rank of commander, suggested to Touville that he abort the arrest in Canfield Township. Assion then drove his friend, Sciortino, home in the auditor’s car.
Sheriff Jerry Greene demoted Assion from commander to his previous rank of sergeant, cutting Assion’s pay by $19,000 a year, because of the Sciortino incident.
The sheriff said he did not believe Assion’s conduct at the traffic stop rose to the level of obstructing justice.
Information culled from Assion’s personnel file shows commendations for exceptional service but also the fact he was fired in 2008. He got his job back that same year in a settlement agreement.
Touville’s hearing will be at 10 a.m. at the sheriff’s office, with Karen U’Halie, county human resources director, serving as hearing officer.
Greene sent Touville a letter alleging he violated the canons of police ethics, failed to properly perform his duties and failed to take proper action, all contained in the sheriff office’s general orders.
In a July 2 news conference, the sheriff said Touville should have insisted on taking Sciortino, who had failed the field-sobriety test Touville administered, to the Canfield police station for a Breathalyzer test.
The sheriff also said he did not believe Touville could escape responsibility for his actions by contending he was simply following Assion’s orders.
Greene had the case investigated by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to avoid any bias, and the matter is now before the special prosecutions unit of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
At the hearing, Touville will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations against him. He could face suspension, reduction in rank or be fired.
Touville stopped Sciortino on U.S. Route 224 near Raccoon Road after an employee of a nearby Wendy’s called 911 to report a possibly impaired driver, who had apparently fallen asleep behind the wheel after ordering food in the drive-thru lane.
Assion went to the traffic stop scene at 12:10 a.m. after Touville initiated a series of calls that went up the chain of command.
The sheriff suspended Maj. Jeff Allen for 10 days without pay for failing to immediately notify the sheriff of what happened.
Sciortino, 42, of Austintown, paid a $50 fine and $80 in court costs after being cited only for failure to drive within marked lanes.
A check of the personnel file of Assion, who became a deputy in 2001, reveals both commendations and disciplinary actions.
In 2002 and 2003, Sheriff Randall Wellington received letters of commendation concerning Assion from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for Assion’s dedication to his training and work in ATF’s Armed Criminal Enforcement Squad in Youngstown.
During the financial crisis presented by the county’s on-again, off-again sales tax, Assion agreed in 2005 to take a two-week voluntary layoff.
The following year, Wellington commended him for assisting in the rescue of a shooting victim.
Later in 2006, Assion received a verbal warning for being 12 minutes late for in-service training.
Wellington fired Assion and another deputy, over their involvement in a 1:15 a.m., May 16, 2008, incident, in which Boardman police were called to the Lanai Lounge because of gunfire in the parking lot and found a spent shell in that lot.
A third deputy, who reportedly showed off his badge and gun while intoxicated in the bar, resigned after the incident. Having been promoted to sergeant in 2007, Assion was assigned to night shift in the county jail and supervised the other two deputies during 2008.
Because of the three deputies’ conflicting statements concerning the Boardman incident, Assion and the other deputy were ordered to take polygraph exams, but both refused. The sheriff fired them after a pre-disciplinary hearing, in which they presented no testimony in their defense.
Having been fired July 15, 2008, and with a binding-arbitration hearing scheduled, Assion was reinstated as a sergeant in a settlement agreement Nov. 25 of that year. The firing was changed to a two-week unpaid suspension, and Assion was awarded $18,807 in back pay for the rest of the time between his termination and reinstatement.
In 2010, J. Michael Thompson, then an assistant county prosecutor, and Wellington commended Assion for his assistance in getting a jury to convict a county jail inmate of vandalism and disrupting public services for breaking a fire-suppression sprinkler head in the jail.
When he took office upon Wellington’s retirement in January this year, Greene promoted Assion from sergeant to commander.
When he became a deputy, Assion signed a code of ethics that said he could not allow “personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence the discretionary authorities entrusted to my job.”