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Ex-firefighter in Liberty faces an assault charge

LIBERTY — The only criminal charge to have originated so far from the Liberty firefighter drug overdose death and drug activity investigation calls for an ex-firefighter to face a charge of assault July 7 in connection to accusations he urinated into a superior’s communal teapot.

Justin M. Graham, 40, Sampson Road, Youngstown, was a fire lieutenant until he resigned last month amid an investigation that uncovered text messages among department employees detailing drug use, drug sharing and other conversations.

Graham was charged with first-degree misdemeanor assault in Girard Municipal Court and is scheduled to appear July 7 before Judge Jeffrey Adler for an arraignment. He has not entered a plea to the charge.

The investigation, initiated after firefighter / paramedic John M. Beard, 51, died from an accidental drug overdose, led to allegations of a prescription drug trading ring inside the department.

The Mahoning Valley Drug Task Force took over the investigation. No other charges have been filed.

Graham resigned from his position. Another lieutenant resigned, a captain retired and a fire inspector was demoted to a firefighter in connection to the investigation.

The criminal complaint and police report regarding the charge show photocopies of text messages between Graham and Beard.

One of the messages from Graham reminded Beard to “NEVER” drink from a teapot that he gave a “top off” to, followed by “hahahahaha.”

The report states a fire captain the teapot belongs to was made aware of the text messages May 12. The captain told Liberty police he and others used the kettle.

Before the charge against Graham was filed, he was found to be in violation of several of the department’s policies, including policies defining assault, courtesy and prohibited acts — connected to the alleged urination in the teapot.

Graham also was found to be in violation of other policies, including the prohibition against engaging in drug transactions while on duty; conformance to laws; member responsibilities; professional conduct and safety. Investigators said Graham also made false statements to superior officers when he notified the on-duty captain that Beard had suffered a panic attack, even though he knew it was a heroin overdose and when he lied to the investigators saying he never suspected Beard of using drugs despite knowing that he was both using and trading prescription drugs at the station.

Officials said they determined Graham committed malfeasance by using drugs while on duty, by selling and distributing drugs to others while on duty, by driving a township ambulance while under the influence of drugs and nearly hitting a pedestrian earlier this year, by covering up and conspiring with others to cover up drug use.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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