Judge Donald Oda II is expected to decide in the next 30 days whether the undercover investigation of a Springboro teacher charged with permitting drug abuse and endangering children, including her son, was unlawful.
Oda will be ruling in part on testimony of officers from the Warren County Drug Task Force and Springboro Police Department grilled by the lawyer representing Amy Panzeca, the elementary school teacher alleged to have allowed her home to become the local “party house” and to have assisted her son in purchasing drugs using the on-line currency Bitcoin.
Lawyer Andrea Ostrowski quizzed the officers on Wednesday during a hearing sought in hopes of convincing Oda he was misled into permitting the raid of Panzeca’s home in the Settlers Walk development last May. Also, Ostrowski was trying to prove the Panzeca boy’s cellphone was illegally scrubbed for incriminating information.
Ostrowski also emphasized two recordings made during the investigation by Springboro police were no longer available.
On Thursday, Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff said recordings from a traffic stop and after the Panzeca and her son were brought to the police station weren’t stored because they were not deemed to be of “evidentiary value.”
Kruithoff said the officers commit such information to memory, which was challenged by Ostrowski during the hearing. The memories of officers Joshua Emmel and Jeff Strader were also compared with allegations in an affidavit prepared by a drug agent - assigned to the task force by the Springboro police - that was used to get Oda’s permission to enter the Panzeca home.
Strader and Emmel were involved in traffic stops and surveillance of cars traveling to and from the Panzeca home.
“We had several complaints from the neighbors” and “multiple calls” about the Panzeca home, Emmel said.
In addition, Ostrowski charged the drug task force agent who questioned Panzeca failed to properly advise her of her Miranda rights.
In addition, Panzeca was not in the court during the hearing. Ostrowski cited “medical issues.”
Oda and the prosecutor, who argued Ostrowski had failed to provide “a substantial preliminary showing” justifying the suppression hearing, waived the need for Panzeca to attend the hearing. Her sister listened from the court gallery.
The juvenile-court case against her son, convicted of selling drugs to Springboro students, is already on appeal. His lawyer has until April 9 to file an amended brief outlining the merits of the appeal with the Ohio 12th Appellate District in Middletown, according to court records.
According to testimony, Panzeca and her daughter were upstairs on May 19 when drug agents served the warrant, while the her son and other boys were hiding in a basement room.
The agent who interviewed Panzeca, her son and other boys at the house said he advised her of her rights before his second interview after determining “she had more involvement than she was letting on.”
Ostrowski also focused on statements in the search warrant affidavit, such as “hand to hand transactions,” to raise questions of whether the claims went beyond what was actually known before the agents, armed with Oda’s warrant, went into the Panzeca home.
It was unclear if this would be enough to convince the judge to suppress key evidence gathered in the case.
Oda denied a motion to disclose the identity of a confidential informant. He said he would rule in 30 days on the suppression motion and the next hearing was scheduled for May 4.