Two people received sentences in Jefferson County Court Monday after two bench trials were brought to a conclusion. Jefferson County Judge Linda Bauer presided over both cases.
The first case saw Jake A. Middleton facing the charge of minor in possession of alcohol, a class 3 misdemeanor. The case arises from a traffic stop in Fairbury where officers initiated a search of Middleton’s vehicle after the K9 Unit with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office alerted to the presence of drugs. During the search, officers found a bottle of beer that was slightly uncapped in the backseat of the vehicle. Andrew Schroeder, an officer with the Fairbury Police Department, stated that they also found a “leafy, green substance” they believed to be marijuana in the center console. The substance was not tested because, as Schroeder explained, there was not enough present to test.
Middleton, who represented himself in this matter, decided not to testify during the case. However, he offered an explanation of the event to Judge Bauer.
“Everything they said was true,” said Middleton. “I was just taking friends home and they left a bottle in the vehicle.”
Judge Bauer reminded Middleton that, as the driver of the vehicle, he is responsible for the contents of the vehicle, including the bottle of beer. She found him guilty and fined him $250.
In another trial in County Court, John Root came before Judge Bauer, facing the charge of violating a harassment protection order, a class 2 misdemeanor.
In April, Deidra Sommerville filed for a protection order against Root for a variety of reasons.
“He would show up at my work and ask a bunch of questions about me and tell people lies about me,” said Sommerville.
After the protection order was approved, Sommerville observed Root slowly driving by her residence, noting that, on July 20, he nearly came to a stop in front of her residence and stared at her while she was sitting on the front porch. During her testimony, she stated this was a repetitive behavior for Root.
“He was driving by my house really slow like he was going to stop,” Sommerville said. “It just really scares me. He was staring at me. I have a daughter to worry about. There was another time I was in my back yard playing with my daughter and I could see him staring at me.”
Officer Kruz Schoenrock, with the Fairbury Police Department, handled the case in July. He stated that after receiving the report he went to Root’s residence to obtain his side of the story, but was unable to locate him. However, he noted that the vehicle Sommerville described in the report was parked at the residence.
Root’s attorney, Joseph Casson, moved for the court to dismiss the case after the witnesses testified, noting that there was no contact made between Root and Sommerville.
“I’m not sure driving by and staring is a violation of a protection order,” said Casson.
County Attorney Jeffrey Goltz asked for the motion to be denied. He stated that there is enough evidence in the case, reiterating that Sommerville felt apprehensive about Root’s behavior.
“There’s more to this case than the defendant is willing to concede,” Goltz said. “When you add one and one you get a very clear two here.”
Judge Bauer agreed with Goltz’s assessment and denied Casson’s motion to dismiss the case. Root took the stand to testify. While on the stand, Root stated that on the day in question, he was at work until noon. Shortly after he left work, he traveled to Beatrice to look for automotive parts and to meet with friends. He stated that he did not leave Beatrice until roughly 7 p.m., when he gave a friend a ride to Fairbury. Goltz addressed Root’s story.
“You realize we have quite a contrast between your version and her (Sommerville’s) version, right?” Goltz asked.
Judge Bauer asked Root how he remembered what he did on July 20, and Root responded that, “I have a pretty good memory.”
Goltz argued that there is enough evidence in the case to prove that Root caused Sommerville to be disturbed enough by his actions to call the police.
“It’s not just driving by, it’s the slowing down, almost coming to a complete stop and eyeballing Miss Sommerville. It’s a combination of all of these things. It’s a drive-by plus,” said Goltz
Casson insisted that the protection order’s language was too vague to address the issue of driving by the property. After hearing the closing arguments, Judge Bauer declared Sommerville to be the more credible party in the matter and found Root to be guilty of violating the order. She sentenced him to nine months of probation, with a no contact clause and an order to stay away from the 1300 block of Oak Street. Root and Judge Bauer discussed the issue of attending auctions at Schultis and Sons. Root asked about parking in the 1300 block of Oak Street to attend auctions.
“You’ll have to park on Maple Street,” said Judge Bauer.
“You cant walk from Maple Street to Schultis and Sons,” Root responded.
“You will have to figure that out then,” Judge Bauer said.
Judge Bauer issued a stern warning to Root before he left court, advising him to take the probation order seriously.
“If you violate probation, I can re-sentence you in this case, and I’ll have no choice but to send you to jail,” said Judge Bauer.