City paralegal still not booked

WARREN – Despite being arraigned Tuesday on a felony drug possession charge, a city Law Department employee who police said took drugs to work still had not been booked into the county jail as of Thursday.

Staff at the Trumbull County Jail said typically an individual goes through the booking process immediately after being arrested or making an initial appearance in court.

However, Jason R. Burns was never ”processed” after he pleaded not guilty, and his bond was set at $2,500. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and his case was immediately bound over to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

On Thursday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said, ”That is unusual,” when asked about the lack of a booking process. Burns should have been fingerprinted, had his mug shot taken and had an inside cheek swabbed for DNA because his charge is felony level.

Since Burns was charged, more unusual circumstances have surfaced in how the city handled his case.

For example, Burns’ city personnel file, obtained by the Tribune Chronicle through a public records request, has no record of the Dec. 23 incident when police were called to the Law Department to escort him home even though his boss, Law Director Greg Hicks, said Burns was suspended immediately.

Substances found in Burns’ possession were sent to a state crime lab for testing Jan. 2. Police said the results came back last week. But DeWine said it should take about 14 days for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the investigative arm of his office, to return drug test results.

Burns was not arrested and he was not charged until Tuesday. Assistant City Law Director Traci Timko Rose said it’s routine for police to release drug suspects until lab tests are positive.

However, police and court records show that a number of people that Warren police caught recently with suspected drugs were arrested on the spot, then arraigned and booked into the county jail almost immediately after being charged.

For example, in January, city police immediately arrested a 37-year-old woman they said had in her possession crack cocaine. She, like Burns, was charged with felony drug possession. Court records show she was booked into the county jail Jan. 7 and arraigned the next day in municipal court.

City officials, including Hicks and Warren police Chief Eric Merkel, insisted Burns has not received any preferential treatment.

City personnel records show Burns was appointed a paralegal assistant July 18, 2012. He indicated on his job application that he heard about the position from Rose and one of his references, ”Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers,” whom he listed as his best friend.

Burns 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.

On Thursday, Hicks refused to speak to a Tribune Chronicle reporter about the matter.

”Not after that article you wrote,” he remarked, referring to Thursday’s Tribune Chronicle coverage.

On Thursday, the Tribune reported that 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.

On Wednesday, Hicks said he was out of the office when he 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.

Hicks said if anyone”had been trying to cover anything up” no one would have called 911.

Police said when they arrived at Hicks’ office two law department employees said Burns ”was acting strangely and either needed medical attention or removed from the premises,” according to Warren police reports.

Police said Burns, with addresses listed on court and police reports as 7994 Aquadale Drive, Boardman, and 686 Perkinswood Blvd. S.E., Warren, was 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 records indicate the substance tested negative for cocaine.