Huron County sheriff’s detectives knew they were busting through the wrong door.
They knew it but chose to ignore a fellow law enforcement officer’s warning.
It was a bad search warrant for a triplex home on Benedict Avenue, according to Norwalk police detective Jim Fulton.
Fulton told them more than 24 hours before eight deputies stormed into John Collins’ small apartment — at 114½ Benedict Ave. — cuffed him and forced him face-down to the floor of his home.
They left him there for about 20 minutes while they ransacked his belongings.
Norwalk police didn’t participate in the raid on March 25 and told the Huron County Sheriff’s Office to stand down, according to documents from the police department.
The Register obtained the documents through a public records request.
“It’s your Fourth Amendment rights and it’s a pretty serious thing when you’re asking a judge to go into someone’s home,” said Norwalk police Chief Dave Light.
“It would be no different than a citizen on the street kicking in a door and holding (the resident) on the floor.”
But Sheriff Dane Howard doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s clear my detectives acted in accordance with the law and executed the search warrant (appropriately). The deputies acted properly and there was no misconduct and it’s as simple as that,” Howard told the Norwalk Reflector a few days after the raid.
Howard has refused to provide public records related to the target of the search warrant — Rob Hendricks — and he has not responded to telephone calls and written inquiries from the Register.
The Huron County Sheriff’s office in the past has routinely ignored the requirements of the state’s public records law.
— DID YOU HEAR ABOUT
The warnings from Norwalk police to the sheriff’s office were delivered to sheriff’s Detective Kayla Zander.
“I told her as far as I know Rob Hendricks does not live there and he has not lived there for at least two years, if ever,” Fulton wrote in a report about the sheriff’s operation at the Benedict Avenue address inside the city.
He talked with Zander the day before — March 24 — on the phone and in text messages, Fulton said.
The exchanges cast doubt in a variety of areas in the official story Sheriff Howard and his chief deputy provided.
The only information in the request for the search warrant about Hendricks living at 114½ Benedict is a statement that deputies had seen Hendricks outside the unit on one occasion.
Light said the sheriff’s office has refused to cooperate or listen to concerns from his department about aggressive tactics in a number of raids — like the botched Benedict Avenue one — and he anticipated blowback in the community.
“I knew there was going to be fallout from this. It’s a serious thing,” Light said.
Deputies stormed John Collins’ home — one of three units in the triplex — and took him to the floor at gunpoint.
The warrant authorized deputies to search Hendricks’ home — not Collins’ — for evidence of oxycodone and heroin trafficking.
But after ransacking his home while ignoring his warnings they had the wrong address and the wrong guy, the deputies found two marijuana pipes in COllins home. The damaged some of his property during the search.
It was while Collins was still handcuffed they “received information” about the residents living next door having drug warrants, chief deputy Capt. Ted Patrick said days after the raid.
But Patrick refused to say who received the information, or how — by phone or text — and he would not provide any other detail about what occurred inside Collins’ home.
Deputies went next door for a “knock and talk,” Patrick said, and arrested Patricia Papp, Hendricks’ mother, and her other son, Thomas Papp, and charged both on drug warrants on file with the sheriff’s office.
They took the cuffs off Collins, and left his apartment.
When contacted by the Register again about a week later, Capt. Patrick dismissed Collins’ complaint about the raid as a “rumor,” without acknowledging the difficulties encountered when deputies stormed into his home.
— TEXTING DETAILS
The text messages between Fulton and sheriff’s Detective Zander make it clear the sheriff’s office was informed, and Fulton said he also talked with Zander.
Norwalk police were well-acquainted with both Patricia Papp and Rob Hendricks from the department’s own drug investigations.
“I explained (to Zander) Hendricks lived at 25 Gallup Ave. for quite a while and recently he has been staying at two different apartments (on Bouscay Avenue),” Fulton’s report states.
“I also informed Det. Zander there are three apartments in the residence there, and I do know (Thomas) and Patricia Papp live in one of the apartments.”
He told Zander he did not know the occupants of the other two units and suggested she do more surveillance and “possibly contact the landlord.”
A dark, grainy photo of a man at the door at 114½ Benedict is what sheriff’s Detective Richard Larson provided Huron County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Cardwell asking to search Hendricks’ residence.
Deputies snapped the photo March 18 during surveillance at the triplex when they allegedly saw Hendricks exit 114½ Benedict Avenue, the request states.
But they’d also received anonymous or confidential information that pills were being sold from the unit in which Patricia Papp lived —the 114 address — according to the affidavit.
Judge Cardwell sealed the affidavit and the warrant after granting it, and he sealed the order sealing it. The double-secret gag order was lifted about a week after the Register sought copies of it from the court, at the end of March.
On March 27, Chief Deputy Patrick talked with the Register and maintained his deputies had the right home even though it was Collins they took down with their weapons drawn.
“It was the house we wanted to hit,” Patrick said. “The only problem is he was not home at the time.”
Patrick said he wasn’t aware Hendricks was related to Patricia Papp, but Fulton and Zander discussed that specifically.
Patrick also told the Register deputies learned about the arrest warrants for Patricia Papp and Thomas Papp and that they lived next door while they were inside Collins’ home, but Fulton said in his report he reminded Zander of the warrants two day earlier.
Both Patrick and Zander were part of the sheriff’s team that raided his home, Collins said.
— HOWARD DODGES
More than a month has passed since the sheriff’s botched raid executing the search warrant .
And nearly a month has passed since Sheriff Howard received records requests from the Register for any past criminal complaints, previous arrest reports or any other documents involving Hendricks, the Papps or Collins.
Howard said three weeks ago he would provide the public records and comply with the state’s records law, but inquiries since then have gone unanswered.
The sheriff did provide a report of the arrests of Patricia and Thomas Papps a few days after they were taken into custody, using just 61 words to explain what happened at 114 Benedict Ave. on March 25.
The report documented how the arresting deputy meticulously fastened the handcuffs around their wrists.
The Register reached out to Howard again Friday. Messages and emails asked just two questions:
• Did your department receive any other information that would tie Hendricks to (the 114½ Benedict Avenue)?
• Did your department receive any information that Hendricks did not live at that address?
Howard did not respond.
Law enforcement agencies are required to document criminal incidents and make those records available to members of the public when requested. That would include the exchanges between Fulton and Zander.
The Huron County Sheriff’s Office for about the last three years has refused to comply with the requirements in state law — Ohio Revised Code 149.43 — and routinely ignores public records requests.
Howard agreed to come into compliance, however, prior to the March 25 raid and said there had been a misunderstanding in his office what records he is required by law to provide. That misunderstanding was the result of an opinion from Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler, Howard said.
But despite the assurances, Howard’s refusal to properly reply to the recent records requests is the same way he ignored past requests.
Howard offered no explanation for backtracking on the promise to take corrective action. It’s unclear whether he intends to comply with Ohio’s records law at any point in the future.