Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Key evidence against ex-cop thrown out

Sess admitted planting drugs on suspect

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The criminal case against a former Cincinnati police officer collapsed Monday when a judge threw out nearly all of the evidence that linked him to planting drugs on a suspect.

        After a hearing in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Judge Robert Ruehlman concluded that the evidence was “tainted” and could not be used at the trial of former Officer John Sess.

        Special Prosecutor James Beaton said he would decide by today whether to appeal.

        Without the evidence, he said, he cannot go forward with a trial.

        “The judge has effectively terminated the case at this point,” Mr. Beaton said after the ruling. “It knocks out being able to try this case.”

        Judge Ruehlman said he barred the evidence because it was gathered after Mr. Sess was granted immunity from prosecution by internal affairs officers.

        The judge said Mr. Sess signed a document promising that anything he told the officers during an administrative meeting could not be used against him in court.

        After signing the document, prosecutors say, Mr. Sess admitted to planting marijuana on a suspect.

        Mr. Sess, a 23-year veteran of the police division, lost his job a short time after the meeting.

        The judge said Mr. Sess' statement led investigators to nearly every piece of evidence that would have been used against him at his trial, including the identity of the drug suspect.

        If not for the statement, the judge said, Mr. Sess probably would never have been indicted on charges of tampering with evidence.

        “There's no way anybody could have known anything about that case without that immunized statement,” Judge Ruehlman said. “It would be impossible.”

        The charges against Mr. Sess stem from a 1984 case involving Shadarle Ragan. In court Monday, Mr. Ragan testified that he had discarded five bags of marijuana while fleeing police.

        After his arrest, he said, an officer showed him bags of marijuana that did not belong to him.

        Prosecutors previously have said Mr. Sess admitted to planting drugs on a suspect later identified as Mr. Ragan. They said he first made the admission while interviewing for a promotion with the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit.

        They said he later gave more details about the case after signing the agreement granting him immunity.

        Mr. Beaton said the statement should be allowed because police departments do not have the authority to grant immunity. He also said prosecutors could have found Mr. Ragan without the statement.

        “I submit that this inevitably would have been found out in time,” Mr. Beaton said.

        But defense attorney James Perry said the statement is the only thing that connected Mr. Sess to Mr. Ragan.

        He also noted that prosecutors historically have rejected criminal cases against officers who have signed similar statements granting immunity.

        Charles Murray, a former officer with the internal investigations section, said prosecutors recently declined to pursue “spin-off” cases from the Patrick Knight case. Mr. Knight, a former officer, is accused of offering female suspects their freedom in exchange for sex.

        In the Sess case, Mr. Perry said, the same protection from prosecution should apply.

        “This case should not have been brought because it is tainted by immunized testimony,” Mr. Perry said.


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