In the county I live in, one police officer is called the top person for catching OVI (Operating Vehicle while Intoxicated) offenses. But a cell phone video taken by one of the people he stopped showed that not only did he lie in his official reports about the results of a field test he administered that he claimed showed the driver was impaired, but that he was even willing to lie even in court.
The judge issued a scathing opinion when the lying was revealed.
The county’s former “Top OVI Cop” was indicted by a grand jury Friday with felony perjury and other charges that accuse him of lying in a police report and on the witness stand about an April drunken-driving arrest captured on cellphone video.
North Royalton police officer Steven Zahursky is also charged with tampering with evidence and falsification related to the April 6 arrest of 22-year-old Austin Smith-Skinner, according to John Ricotta, a defense lawyer who served as a special prosecutor on the case.
Charges against Smith-Skinner were dropped after Parma Municipal Court Judge Timothy Gilligan wrote in an Oct. 24 order that cellphone video Smith-Skinner recorded during field sobriety tests stood “in shocking and chilling contrast” to what Zahursky wrote in his report, and then testified to during an October hearing.
Zahursky attested to the facts in his report on the stand, and said again that Smith-Skinner was slurring heavily and raised his arms during the tests. Smith-Skinner then got on the stand and Manning played the video.
Gilligan called Zahursky back up to the stand after he saw the video, and asked for it to be played again. The judge told the officer to say “stop” whenever the video showed Smith-Skinner swayed or raised his hands during the tests, court records say.
Zahursky remained silent, because the video showed Smith-Skinner never made those motions, Gilligan wrote.
The police and legal system tends to treat the statements of police as presumptively true and this places defendants in a difficult position to counter lies if there are no witnesses. Cell phones partly compensate as do police body cameras. But the town where this happened does not issue dash cams or body cams to the police so without this video, Smith-Skinner would have had no hope of being exonerated.
It is not clear how many of the high numbers that Zahursky obtained were due to his willingness to lie about what he observed.