By PETER H. MILLIKEN
and JOE GORMAN
Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said he believes a senior command staff member gave county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino a ride home after Sciortino was cited by a sheriff’s sergeant for failing to drive within marked lanes.
Yet to be explained is why someone would need a ride home after a misdemeanor lane violation. That is among the issues that have fueled a formal investigation inside the sheriff’s department to probe how the traffic stop of Sciortino was handled.
Greene declined to name the top staffer, who also arrived on the scene, but outside investigators, who began work Friday, are expected to talk to everyone involved in the incident.
Sgt. James Touville cited Sciortino, 42, of Woodgate Street, Austintown, after stopping him in Canfield Township at 11:35 p.m. May 26 on U.S. Route 224 east of Raccoon Road.
Questions about whether the stop was handled properly surfaced soon after.
A Vindicator query into public records from the traffic stop reveal the incident began late May 26 when an employee of Wendy’s on Route 224 in Canfield Township called 911 to report that a man had fallen asleep in a car outside the restaurant.
A copy of the recording of call center dispatches obtained by The Vindicator shows the license number of a black Buick given to dispatchers by the restaurant matches the license plate later
reported by the deputy who pulled over a black Buick a short time later at Route 224 and Raccoon Road. And that license plate matches the one listed on the ticket given to Sciortino, also obtained by The Vindicator.
The call center recordings reveal that a deputy was dispatched to the Wendy’s shortly after 11 p.m.
“The gentleman’s now sleeping in the parking lot,” the dispatcher said, telling a deputy the car is a black Buick. She gave him the license plate number and asked him to check it out.
Minutes later, at about 11:35 p.m., a deputy pulled over a black Buick at Route 224 and Raccoon Road. The deputy reported that one person was inside.
There is not much more mention on the rest of the recordings of the call. Sciortino’s name is never mentioned. Names of other individuals during that period are mentioned by both deputies and dispatchers.
Sheriff Greene had said earlier that he sought an outside investigation of his staff to avoid any bias.
Summit County sheriff’s deputies were to arrive Friday to interview the law enforcement officers involved in the traffic stop. Greene said he hopes their investigation will be completed late this week.
Greene said he was not sure if Touville gave Sciortino a field sobriety test, but added, “I would hope that he would have.”
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he isn’t familiar with details of the traffic stop involving Sciortino. However, Gains said: “If an officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver is impaired, then the standard procedure is to request that the driver take a field sobriety test.”
As for a top sheriff’s official driving Sciortino home, Gains said: “Of course, that’s unusual.”
“Sheriff Greene is being transparent here by having an objective outside agency look at the behavior of the officers involved,” Gains said of the department probe. “The sheriff is trying to take himself out of it because of his relationship with his top brass,” he added.
“He’s removing any appearance of bias,” Gains said.
Sciortino, who already has paid a $50 fine and $80 in court costs to Mahoning County Area Court in Canfield, could not be reached for comment.
Scott Weamer, Canfield city assistant police chief, said city police officer Matt Bartolec also was at the traffic stop scene for about 10 minutes after Touville requested backup.
Weamer said his department’s cruisers are equipped with dash-cam video and audio, but he does not know what the camera from Bartolec’s cruiser may have recorded from this traffic stop.
When Canfield city officers are called for mutual aid outside their jurisdiction, “We’re there for officer safety only. We’re not involved in any decision-making process,” Weamer said.
Weamer said Canfield Law Director Mark Fortunato has advised police not to release any dash-cam recording of the incident that might exist. Efforts to reach Fortunato to have him cite the specific reason the recordings would not be released were unsuccessful.
However, a copy of the dash cam video was aired by broadcast partner 21 WFMJ-TV Friday night. In it, Sciortino can be seen handcuffed and getting into a county sheriff’s vehicle.
A Wendy’s spokesman said the store has no video of anyone asleep in a car on its property.
A woman who identified herself as the Wendy’s manager said she was not permitted to comment.
Mahoning County Clerk of Courts records show no drunken-driving charges ever having been filed against Sciortino.