Warren man on drug trial for third time

WARREN — A Warren man accused of possession of crack cocaine took the stand in his own defense Wednesday as a Trumbull County jury will get the case sometime today to weigh a felony charge of cocaine possession.

A third trial for Vincent A. Croff, 33, 185 Beechwood St. NE, began Tuesday in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos. Twice this summer, two other juries deadlocked while deciding this case, causing Kontos to declare mistrials.

If found guilty, Croff could face up to a year in prison.

The case centers around a Feb. 11, 2015, early morning traffic stop on Scott Street NE, in which police said Croff fled from the vehicle. Two police officers testified that  a baggie of crack cocaine was found in the yard where Croff eventually surrendered to police.

According to trial testimony, Croff was not at the scene when the dope that eventually tested to be cocaine was found. He was arrested and taken to the Trumbull County Jail on a charge of obstruction of official business.

In all three trials, Croff took the stand in his own defense, denying that the drugs were his.

“I did not possess crack cocaine (that night),” Croff testified, saying that it was just a small amount of cocaine. “It was a little baggie, I wouldn’t have run over that. I would have owned up to it, but it wasn’t mine.”

Under questioning from his attorney David Engler, Croff said he ran from officers because he was scared after he was pulled over by officer Mike Edwards in the 400 block of Scott Street. The officer testified that Croff, driving his girlfriend’s Chevy Tahoe, had run a stop sign at the intersection of Waverly and Scott streets NE.

“I just wanted my ticket and get on my way,” Croff said, noting he started to get scared when a third patrol car had pulled up to the scene.

Sgt. Brian Holmes, the second officer at the scene that night, testified he usually backs up Edwards at traffic stops because he rides alone with his K-9, Czar.

Edwards testified earlier Wednesday that  he spotted the baggie about 50 minutes after the traffic stop. Edwards said he became suspicious after Croff wouldn’t let him search the vehicle.

“He had no reason to run unless there was an active warrant, he didn’t have a driver’s license, or he had drugs or a gun on him,”  Holmes said responding to a question by assistant prosecutor Charles Morrow.

Morrow, in cross examining the defendant, asked if Croff was scared because he was under probation for a previous federal conviction and may have violated the terms. Croff, who testified he was earlier drinking vodka at the Powerhouse Bar that night, said he was  more worried about getting a DUI.

Both Morrow and Engler are expected to present closing arguments this morning, followed by Kontos reading the jury instructions for deliberations. Morrow said the first trial ended with a jury voting 11-1 favoring guilt, while the second ended in a 10-2 deadlock. Juries must be unanimous for a felony conviction, according to state law.