Mahoning County’s Auditor, Michael Sciortino, a lawyer, appeared to be so impaired while driving on the night of May 26 that a high-ranking member of the sheriff’s department felt the need to give him a lift home.
Indeed, an investigation of the traffic stop conducted by the Summit County Sheriff’s Department found that Sciortino “failed miserably” a field-sobriety test.
Yet, the Democratic officeholder is getting away with a legal kiss on the cheek — a kinder, gentler version of a tap on the wrist.
Why? Because rather than being treated like any other driver suspected of being impaired, Sciortino was given a pass. Here are the facts in the case:
He was stopped May 26 by Sgt. James Touville on Route 224 in Canfield Township after employees at a restaurant became alarmed when a drive-through customer showed signs of obvious intoxication behind the wheel. Touville pulled Sciortino over and administered field sobriety tests; Sciortino failed them.
Touville handcuffed Sciortino, told him he was under arrest for suspicion of drunken driving, placed him in the back seat of his cruiser and made arrangement for Sciortino to take a Breathalyzer test at the Canfield police station.
However, rather than immediately drive the county auditor to the police station, Touville informed a supervisor who it was that he had stopped. The call triggered a series of actions that define favoritism.
According to the Summit County investigative report, Touville was told to await the arrival of Cmdr. Thomas J. Assion, who got to the scene of the arrest in a car with his girlfriend.
Assion had Sciortino removed from the cruiser, uncuffed and placed in Sciortino’s car, which Assion drove away. Assion’s girlfriend followed in his car.
As a result of the outside investigation, which involved interviews with all the law enforcement officials connected to the case, Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene demoted Assion and suspended Touville and others.
But Greene insisted the actions of Assion or anyone else did not amount to obstruction of justice.
County Prosecutor Paul Gains, reacting to the public outcry over the lenient treatment of Sciortino, asked the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in July to review the facts in the case.
RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION
Last week, Gains received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Micah R. Ault that contained this revealing statement:
“On the night in question, we found authorities did not charge Sciortino with OVI, did not complete an arrest report, and did not request any breath, blood, or urine samples. Because there is insufficient evidence of impairment, Sciortino will plead to a Failure to Control traffic offense.”
As for the sheriff’s employees, they are off the hook because of previous statements they gave in the Summit County investigation. Such statements are constitutionally protected and, therefore, cannot be used against them in a court of law.
So, Sciortino gets off with barely a smudge on his record, Mahoning County Prosecutor Gains can say he called the attorney general’s office because he wanted to remove any appearance of impropriety, and Sheriff Greene is “satisfied with the results” and that “we will move on and get past this.”
The public shouldn’t be so eager to move on.
In July, we not only called for an investigation by the state attorney general’s office, but said the disciplinary counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court should delve into whether Sciortino’s actions of that night and subsequent days rise to acceptable standards for officers of the court.
Although there is no evidence the county auditor and officer of the court sought preferential treatment, there is evidence that he recognized after the fact that he had received it.
He called an old friend at the sheriff’s office a few days later to express his gratitude.
The criminal justice system in Mahoning County has been under a dark cloud for years. Sciortino’s case simply adds to the public’s belief that justice isn’t blind.