Discrepancy found on test time

WARREN – A discrepancy between when the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation completed lab tests and when an assistant city prosecutor said they were received is the latest question about how the city handled the felony drug case against a Law Department employee.

Last week, assistant city prosecutor Traci Timko Rose said the city charged law department paralegal Jason Burns quickly after test results showed he was in possession of OxyContin and heroin.

Law Director Greg Hicks and Timko Rose were questioned about the timing because police found the drugs on Burns on Dec. 23, the city sent the drugs to the state crime lab on Jan. 2, but didn’t charge Burns until Feb. 25, after the Tribune Chronicle began asking questions about the case.

Rose said the city received the test results the week of Feb. 17. However, BCI, the investigative arm of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, said tests were completed Jan. 15, and the results were mailed to the city police department on Jan. 16.

Police Chief Eric Merkel and Timko Rose are out of the office and unavailable for comment until Thursday, spokespeople in each department said Monday. Hicks did not return a Tribune Chronicle reporter’s telephone call to his office on Monday.

The case began Dec. 23 when Burns acted erratically at work and police were called to take him home. When police arrived about 1:30 p.m., Burns admitted to taking OxyContin. Officers found a hypodermic needle, 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. Lab tests were negative for crack, but positive for heroin.

The incident went unreported in local media and a police report contained virtually no information. When the Tribune Chronicle learned about the incident and a reporter began asking questions on Feb. 25, police charged Burns with felony drug possession. Shortly before Warren Municipal Court closed that day, he appeared in appeared in front of Judge Thomas Gysegem and after waiving a preliminary hearing was bound over to common pleas court and freed on $2,500 personal recognizance bond.

Rose and Hicks said last week that the Tribune Chronicle’s questioned did not trigger the proceedings. They said there was a delay between receiving the lab results the week of Feb. 17 and filing the charges Feb. 25 because Officer Robert Trimble, who handled the case, was on bereavement leave during that time.

Trimble confirmed that, but declined to comment further and referred inquiries about the matter to his superiors.

Answers to many other questions about the case remain unclear:

  • Why it took 10 days between the incident and sending the substances to BCI;
  • Why there is no mention of Burns’ past run-ins with the law, including several convictions in Mahoning County, in his City of Warren personnel file;
  • Why Burns was never arrested;
  • Why Burns was never booked, fingerprinted, photographed and swabbed for DNA after being charged with a felony.

Hicks, Merkel and Timko Rose maintain that he received no preferential treatment.

Police said there is not dashboard camera video available from the incident because the camera in Trimble’s cruiser was broken.

Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said there is no surveillance recording of the incident because the city’s security cameras outside the Law Department were not installed until after the first of the year.

Burns is expected to face a disciplinary hearing this week that could lead to his termination. Cantalamessa said he did not know the exact time or date of the disciplinary hearing.

”He has a right to have an employment hearing with union representation,” Cantalamessa said.