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  Appeals Court Rules 30 Day Suspended Jail Sentence Was Not An Abuse Of Discretion  
  In Case Of Woman Who Was Found Squatting In Home In Historic Newport Glen District:   September 7, 2023 Edition  
     Property Owner Given Final Notice To Clean The Site Up
     
      BY JOHN A. DARNELL JR.
      associate editor
      The Seventh District Court of Appeals has upheld a Mahoning County Common Pleas verdict that sentenced a woman to a suspended 30-day jail sentence (while placed under two years of community control) after she was found guilty of criminal trespassing (reduced from the original charge of breaking and entering) into a home in the historic Newport Glen neighborhood.
      An Akron-based attorney, Don Pond, appointed at public cost, claimed in the appeal that when convicted, Desmonique Hammonds, 33, was not given her ‘right’ to address the trial court judge, Anthony D’Apolito, during sentencing, and as well, the court abused its discretion in giving the woman a suspended jail sentence.
      “It is extremely concerning when a person who disapproves of the results of a civil proceeding takes criminal steps to attempt to undo court actions,” said the Seventh District decision authored by Judge Carol Ann Robb, who added “This is especially true where the entire situation appeared manufactured (by Hammonds).” Judges Cheryl Waite and Mark Hanni concurred.
      On Sept. 14, 2021, five Boardman police officers were sent to 157 Newport Dr. to investigate a female was inside the vacant home.
      Ptl. Nicholas Brent said police met with agents of the property owner, who called attention to a limousine parked in the driveway, and numerous lights on inside the home. They were told the female believed to be in the home was Hammonds, who had been evicted in Dec., 2020.
      According to police, the day before they were sent to the home, Hammonds had signed a ‘Turn-On Release’ and made a deposit with the Youngstown Water Department for service at the residence. That same day she contacted Allied Locksmiths for a service call and door opening.
      Hammonds told police she had not been evicted from the home (4,584 sq-ft, with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and three fireplaces) and indeed, she did hold the real deed to the property
      She was arrested by police, who said they believed Hammonds had deceptively entered the home and was trespassing by denying the property owner of his right to the home. Hammonds was taken to jail, and her mother came to the home and took custody of her children.
     
      * * * * * * * * * *
      In May, 2019 the Mahoning County Treasurer filed a foreclosure notice against the then owners of 157 Newport Dr., who were identified as Donald and Stephen Shetterly, who were given notice at the residence in Indiana. Certified mail sent to any unknown residents at the home was returned to the post office as unclaimed about a month later, Judge Robb said, adding in Nov. 2019, [Hammonds] went to the county treasurer’s attorney “asking for a quit claim deed and then leaving in an upset state.”
      On Aug. 18, 2020, the property was sold at a sheriff’s sale for $151,000 to Portage Banc LLC, of Kent, Oh., as the appellant court noted “through its statutory agent, Jitendra Kapasi,” and some four months later, a Mahoning County deputy sheriff posted a 30 day notice on the home that ordered anyone living there (particularly Hammonds) to leave by Jan. 30, 2021.
      Three days later Hammonds sent an email to an internal affairs investigator at the sheriff’s department, complaining that she was given a three-day notice and no eviction action had been filed against her in any municipal court of Mahoning County.”
      The investigator told Hammonds the only way to stop the process was through court proceedings,” Judge Robb said, noting Hammonds was unsuccessful in her attempts to do so.
      Hammonds then made complaints against the sheriff’s deputy and Boardman police, however, as Judge Robb said “In doing so, she acknowledged receiving the [eviction] notice posted on the property, while complaining no eviction had been filed.”
      The locks on the home were changed, and the home was checked by police and found to be vacant. However, as the appellate court noted, “Sometine thereafter, an agent (of the property owner, Kapasi) stopped to check on the property and noticed someone broke in through the back door, and while there, he overheard Hammonds speaking on a phone call.
      In mid-April, 2021, Hammonds contacted the property owner, asking if she could rent the home for $250/month and make repairs.
      According to Judge Robb’s decision, the property owner did not respond and later told the trial court the offer was extremely low, the house had been trashed and Hammonds had previously threatened him over the phone.
      Judge Robb pointed out when Hammonds met a locksmith at the home on Sept. 13, 2021, “she pulled up in a limousine and told the locksmith she had locked her keys inside the house.” Judge Robb pointed out that Hammonds had a piece of mail and a driver’s license that matched the Newport Dr. address, and the locksmith let her into the home.
      Police learned that the new property owner (Kapasi) had turned the water service off, but Hammonds was able to have service restored after she displayed her driver’s license and a document purported to be a five-year lease.
      On appeal, Hammonds’ counsel claimed his client was not allowed to address the lower court at her sentencing “on her own behalf and present any information in mitigation of punishment,” a point on which Judge Robb said that Atty. Pond replied in court “We don’t have anything else to say.” Hammonds first assignment of error was thus overruled.
      Her counsel also argued the maximum suspended jail sentence was unlawful, constituting an abuse of discretion and was unjust and unfair.
      “The overriding purposes of misdemeanor sentencing are to protect the public from future crime by the offender and others, and to punish the offender,” Judge Robb said. She noted that evidence presented at Hammonds trial in the lower court “could reasonably be viewed as one of the worst forms of criminal trespass. Hammonds broke into the house by falsely telling a locksmith she locked herself out of her house. She moved herself and her children into the house from which she had been removed seven months earlier.
      “The imposition of a suspended 30-day jail sentence (with two years of community control), was not an abuse of discretion.”
      And as Judge Robb said, the lower court also told Hammonds her two years of community control would be suspended if she found stable housing and “abandoned her obsession with the property at issue.”
      * * * * * * * * * *
      On Aug. 4, an inspector from the Boardman Township Planning/Zoning Office inspected the home at 157 Newport Dr. It was the third inspection of the property, according to township zoning records.
      Inspector Shaun Heffner said the property failed, raising questions about the condition of a rear porch and stairs, noting exterior walls are damaged and deteriorating, there is vegetation and plant overgrowth around sidewalks, lamp posts, and a basketball hoop; areas of the roof are in disrepair with weeds and debris in the gutters, and windows, doors and screens are damaged.
      The property owner, Portage Bank LLC (not a bank), at 7799 St. Rt. 43, Kent, Oh., (Jitendra Kapasi agent), was advised “Please work on the violations and the overall condition and maintenance of the property. Clean up any rubbish/tree debris and make repairs…
      “If you do not bring this property to compliance by Fri., Aug. 25, Boardman Township will issue a violation citation.”
      Kapasi reportedly owns at least two other properties in Boardman, and also owned the former Terrace Motel on Market St. in Boardman that was closed down and demolished after Boardman police raided the establishment and charged several persons living in the motel with drug violations. The motel was noted for a sign at the clerk’s desk that read “No refunds after five minutes.”
      In June, 2022 when Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Anthong D’Apolito found Desmonique Hammonds guilty of criminal trespassing (reduced from an original charge of breaking and entering) at 157 Newport Dr., he suspended 27 days of a 30 day jail sentence, he imposed a two-year community control sanction supervised by the Mahoning County Probation Department, and told Hammonds “if a violation of community control occurs, a more severe sanction may be imposed including a 30 day jail term and a fine.”
      Early in Apr., 2023, the Penn Hills Police Department, in Allegheny County, Pa., contacted Boardman police requesting local law enforcement check at 157 Newport Dr. to see if Hammonds may have returned to home. According to the Allegheny County police, Hammonds had reported her 12-year-old daughter was missing and ran away from their home in Pennsylvania. However, after making the claim the daughter was missing, Allegheny police said Hammonds would not cooperate with their investigation.
      While investigators with the Allegheny County Child Abduction Response Team were conducting their investigation into the missing girl, they found that Hammonds had fled from her home, and during a vehicular pursuit, the woman evaded law enforcement. Hammonds was eventually located at a home on Boston Ave. in Youngstown, where she was arrested on charges of obstruction and fleeing and eluding.
      Her daughter was located, unharmed.
 
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