Ex-Liberty firefighter sues for property taken in search

GIRARD — A firefighter who resigned amid a drug investigation after the accidental fatal overdose of a colleague is suing the task force for the return of property taken during a search of his home.

Officers with the Mahoning Valley Drug Task Force on May 20 and May 27 searched the home of former Lt. Joshua Cleland and Hayley Omar, 1645 Warner Road, Vienna, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Cleland and Omar in Girard Municipal Court.

The search warrants were “for the search and seizure of certain cellular phones and all evidence in support of a charge of drug possession and trafficking in drugs,” the lawsuit states.

During the search, police took 39 items, including one cellphone, two iPads, a “large amount of U.S. currency,” two vehicles, six watches, 23 firearms and firearm accessories, and three prescription pill bottles, the suit states.

“There is absolutely no indication or evidence that any of the seized items are illegal, were ever used in the commission of any crime or have any connection to criminal activity,” the suit states.

The suit claims the items are not being held “for any good faith investigation into criminal activity” but rather to “harass” and “pressure” Cleland into “accepting an inequitable agreement regarding crimes (they) did not commit.”

“After more than a month since the seizures, no charges have been filed and no civil forfeiture action has been brought,” states the suit filed by the Maruca Law Firm of Youngstown.

Members of the drug task force declined to comment on the suit because it is pending litigation. Questions were referred to an assistant county prosecutor, with whom a message was left Thursday afternoon.

The suit states the items should be returned and photos of the property can be used as evidence if necessary if there are future criminal proceedings. It also requests monetary damages, not to exceed $15,000, and accuses the task force of violating the Fourth Amendment rights of Cleland and Omar.

No criminal charges have been filed against Cleland.

A neighbor who said he saw the police search said officers “destroyed” Cleland’s home, leaving it a mess.

Cleland resigned from his position with the department after township officials found him to be in violation of policies against engaging in drug transactions while on duty; not keeping a drug and alcohol free workplace; conformance to laws; professional conduct and safety. The investigation found Cleland committed malfeasance by using drugs while on duty and by selling and distributing drugs to others while on duty, and committed nonfeasance by failing to notify his superior officers others were using drugs in the department.

According to reports, Cleland and Liberty firefighter / paramedic John Beard, who died April 12 after being found unresponsive at his McDonald home, exchanged text messages discussing prescription pills.

The investigation led to the demotion of a fire inspector, the resignation of another lieutenant and the retirement of a captain.

Former Lt. Justin M. Graham, 40, Sampson Road, Youngstown, was charged with assault in connection to the investigation. An indictment accuses him of urinating in a captain’s tea kettle.

He is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on the charge in Girard Municipal Court.


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