By Peter H. Milliken
Mahoning County officials have differing interpretations as to who’s entitled to park at the curb along the perimeter of the county courthouse in areas designated “police vehicles-only” along Boardman and Market streets.
“Prosecutors are law-enforcement officers,” said Maj. William Cappabianca of the county sheriff’s office.
County-owned cars driven by assistant prosecutors qualify to park in those zones, Cappabianca said, adding that he was unsure whether those prosecutors are entitled to park their personal vehicles there.
Cappabianca said he was unaware that prosecutors were parking there until The Vindicator inquired about the matter.
The major said judges are authorized to park in the police-vehicle zones.
Although he could not cite specific rulings, the major said the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that, for security reasons, judges may park within the view of sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse.
However, a top court spokesman said he could not find any rulings by the justices on this matter.
“Ultimately, the sheriff is responsible for the judges’ security,” the major said.
“Any public-safety vehicle can park there,” if it has emergency lights, a siren and an emergency radio, including police, fire, and emergency- management vehicles and ambulances, said Paul J. Gains, county prosecutor and a former city police officer.
Prosecutors probably don’t have the authority to park county vehicles there if they don’t have the emergency lights, siren and radio, he said.
Gains said his assistant prosecutors are not entitled to park their personal vehicles in the police-vehicle zones.
In his opinion, Gains said judges are not entitled to park there because “they don’t have police vehicles.”
Judicial parking privilege
For security reasons, the county pays $75 per month per parking space for seven common pleas judges to park in a nearby garage, for a total of $6,300 for 2014, Judge Lou A. D’Apolito, presiding and administrative judge of common pleas court, confirmed.
That money is derived from court-filing fees, said Robert Regula, court administrator.
The five general-division common pleas judges and the probate and domestic- relations court judges are each paid a salary of $121,350 annually.
As to why some judges sometimes park at the courthouse curb despite the availability of their county-paid garage parking spaces, Judge D’Apolito said: “A routine is not conducive to one’s safety. There should never be a routine that can be identified, so I think that parking in different places at different times is beneficial. Also, I believe that it’s appropriate that we have an easy ingress and egress from the courthouse for security reasons.”
“Also the inclement weather plays a role in whether we should park in the garage or not,” he added.
“They should be able to park there for their safety,” Judge D’Apolito said of judges parking in the police zones. “We have no secure parking facility in the building or attached to the building or fenced into our courthouse. We have a makeshift arrangement that we have to maximize” from a security standpoint.
“If somebody parks there and they don’t have a public- safety vehicle, they take a chance of getting a ticket,” Gains said of those who choose to park at the curb.
The ticket recipient would then have to contest it in court or pay it out of his or her pocket, Gains said.
more trouble than a ticket
One person who recently parked illegally in the police vehicles-only zone on Market Street in front of the courthouse got into serious trouble with the law.
On Wednesday, Latesha Hines, 26, of Himrod Avenue, was instructed by sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse door to move her car from that zone after she had brought Charles Allen, 20, of Austintown, to court for sentencing.
Hines told deputies she’d move her car as long as Allen did not come with her.
However, Allen followed her and entered the car, which turned around at Market and Front streets and was stopped by sheriff’s deputies in a northbound lane of Market Street in front of the courthouse.
Hines was jailed on charges of heroin trafficking and driving under suspension after deputies said they found 5 grams of heroin in her purse.
Judge James C. Evans sentenced Allen to 15 months in prison on charges of aggravated vehicular assault, failure to comply with a police order and a probation violation from a 2012 case.
Most notable among the prosecutors’ vehicles that parked recently in the Boardman Street police zone was the personal car belonging to Rebecca Doherty, criminal-division chief, which bore removable magnetic door signs saying “Elect Becky Doherty common pleas judge.”
On her dashboard was a sign from Gains’ office saying she was performing “official business.”
Doherty, who resides in Portage County, is in a contested race for a common pleas judgeship there.
“It’s like a bumper sticker. I work here, and I campaign for judge on my own time.” Doherty said, adding that she tries to remember to remove her campaign signs when she’s performing Mahoning County business.
Because her co-workers began discussing her parking habits with her after The Vindicator’s courthouse- parking inquiries began, Doherty said she no longer parks in the police-vehicle zone.
However, she said of her previous habit of parking in the police zone near her office in the county administration building: “That area is designated for law enforcement, and I consider myself law enforcement.” Doherty does not have a county vehicle assigned to her.
Doherty said her job requires her to travel to the coroner’s office at Oakhill Renaissance Place and to interviews with witnesses.
Judges park in the Boardman Street police zone, she said.
On a recent business day, Doherty’s campaign-placarded car was among five vehicles in the police-only parking zone on Boardman Street.
In that zone, the badge of an assistant county prosecutor without the prosecutor’s name was displayed in a Jeep, and an unmarked van bore a dashboard placard saying it was being used by a Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office courier authorized only for short-term police parking.
Two other vehicles parked in the zone bore no identifying badges, placards or insignia.
None of the vehicles had handicapped placards or visible emergency lights, sirens or radios.
“No one has really defined what vehicle under what circumstance would qualify to park in those spaces,” Judge D’Apolito observed.
Besides prisoner transport and emergency response, law-enforcement vehicles have legitimate needs to park alongside the courthouse, including the needs of their occupants to obtain search and arrest warrants from the courthouse or case files from the prosecutor’s office, Cappabianca said.
Sheriff’s deputies, city police and Ampco, the city’s parking-enforcement company, have authority to ticket vehicles parked illegally outside the courthouse, Cappabianca said.
Although sheriff’s deputies ticket illegal parkers outside the courthouse, their first priority is providing security inside the courthouse, he said.
“We don’t actively get engaged with that parking around the courthouse, since there are some related security issues that I leave to the sheriff’s department,” said Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees.
A deputy municipal court clerk said it would be difficult or impossible to determine the number of tickets written by each parking enforcement authority on the courthouse perimeter during 2013 because tickets are often written specifying only the name of the street where the violation occurred, without identifying the specific address or block.
“I think allowing the police parking is perfectly fine. From a practical standpoint, I don’t have a problem with the media parking there, but, technically, the media’s breaking the law” if media vehicles park along the courthouse perimeter, Gains said.
“I have no problem with any law-enforcement agency enforcing parking around that courthouse, but it should be done uniformly,” Gains said.
Besides police parking, there are two authorized handicapped parking spaces along a curb indentation on the Market Street side of the courthouse.
Although signs designate the Front Street side of the courthouse as a no-parking zone, sheriff’s deputies allow overflow handicapped parking there and they don’t ticket properly placarded handicapped people’s vehicles parked there, Cappabianca said.
The designated barrier-free handicapped entrance to the courthouse is its south entrance on Front Street.
federal COURT CONTRAST
The specially-designated curbside parking along parts of the Mahoning County Courthouse perimeter contrasts with the curbs at the Thomas D. Lambros and Nathaniel R. Jones federal buildings and U.S. courthouses in Youngstown, where signs clearly state that no parking is permitted at any time.
Unlike the Mahoning County Courthouse, the federal courthouses have fenced-in rear lots for employee parking.
The lack of secure, fenced-in employee parking at the county courthouse makes it impractical to impose an absolute ban on curbside parking there, such as the one that applies along the curbs at the federal courthouses, Judge D’Apolito said.