City paralegal faces charges

WARREN – A city law department paralegal, who Law Director Greg Hicks wanted police to escort home after he brought drugs to the office, was charged Tuesday with felony drug possession.

Virtually all details about the Dec. 23 incident had remained under cloak until the Tribune Chronicle inquired about them on Tuesday. The inquiries appeared to touch off a flurry of activity, including the felony charges being filed against paralegal Jason R. Burns later in the day.

City officials said the charges being filed after Tribune inquiries were merely coincidental.

Warren police charged Burns in Warren Municipal Court Tuesday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, and his bond was set at $2,500. His case was immediately bound over to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court after he waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Police were called to 391 Mahoning Ave. N.W. around 1:30 p.m. Dec. 23 in reference to ”an unwanted disorderly subject.” According to a 911 record, the caller said that Hicks wanted police to take the man home.

Hicks, who said he is recommending Burns’ termination, said he was not in the office at the time of the incident but had received a phone call from another employee who said she was concerned about Burns’ ”erratic” behavior. Hicks said initially he told her to ask Burns to leave, but then told her to call police.

Police said when they arrived, they were met by two law department employees who told them that the individual, later identified as Burns, ”was acting strangely and either needed medical attention or removed from the premises,” according to Warren police reports released Wednesday.

Police noticed Burns, with addresses listed on court and police reports as 7994 Aquadale Drive, Boardman, and 686 Perkinswood Blvd. S.E., Warren, sitting at a desk and that his ”appearance was untidy, unkempt” and that he wasn’t wearing any shoes, one of the reports states.

Police said they asked Burns if he needed medical attention and he told them he had taken some OxyContins. He told police he had a cold, but refused medical attention and stated he wanted to go home, a report states.

Hicks, however, said police did not know about any drugs until they patted down Burns before placing him in the cruiser, as required by department policy.

Police said Burns had several items in his possession, including a hypodermic needle and dirty spoon, two crack pipes, a plastic white prescription bottle that contained four yellow capsules, several ”pieces of miscellaneous pills,” and one grayish rock-like substance suspected to be crack, reports state.

Police reported that all of the items were confiscated as evidence and submitted to the state crime lab for testing. Burns was not charged at the time, but was released on investigation pending the test results, police said.

Officials said it is routine to not arrest individuals found to have suspected drugs in their possession until after tests on the substances are completed.

The substances were submitted to the state crime lab for testing Jan. 2. Police said the results came back last week.

The grayish rock-like substance ”was not found to be positive for the presence of cocaine,” reports state.

The OxyContin and Alprazolam pills Burns had were not prescribed to him, police reported.

An initial police report had little information. It said a woman named Diane made the 911 call and a man was found with drugs and drug paraphernalia. An updated report released Wednesday identified Burns, but provided no other details.

The Tribune Chronicle then filed a written request for what Warren police call a Level One report. The request was denied. Police Chief Eric Merkel later released the report, which contained more details.

Hicks said the charges late Tuesday did not result because of the Tribune’s inquiries. However, a police employee said as of Wednesday, no police department detective had been assigned to the case.

Hicks said it was not a conflict of interest for the city to handle filing charges against one of its own employees. Hicks said if Burns had not waived his preliminary hearing in municipal court, the city likely would have sought an outside agency to pursue his prosecution to avoid a conflict of interest.

City personnel records show Burns was appointed a paralegal assistant July 18, 2012. He has remained on unpaid leave since the incident, Hicks said. Hicks said Burns’ employment is pending a termination hearing, which he is entitled to as a union employee.

Hicks said he had never before had an issue with Burns or his work.

”Actually, he was an exemplary employee and I’m sorry to lose him. It’s a shame but there’s zero tolerance in my office for this type of behavior,” Hicks said.