Login | January 28, 2022

7th District finds autistic man violated protection order

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 7, 2022

A Mahoning County trial court did not err by determining a Boardman man violated a protection order filed by his next-door neighbor, according to the 7th District Court of Appeals.
K.A.T., a 24-year-old man with high-functioning autism, appealed a judgment finding him guilty of violating a protection order.
On Sept. 6, 2019, K.A.T. – who lives with his parents – was home alone. The neighbor, J.F., was also home alone and outside in his backyard watering his garden.
K.A.T.’s bedroom window can be seen from J.F.’s backyard. Court records indicate J.F. heard yelling coming from K.A.T.’s house, which is not uncommon. J.F. could not make out the words at first but recognized the appellant’s voice. Eventually he heard K.A.T yell the words, “You think you’re safe, but you’re not.” At first, he ignored the words and kept watering. But after he heard K.A.T. yell, “You call the police at the first sign of danger,” J.F. felt threatened and called the police.
Officers told K.A.T. he was being too loud and that J.F. believed the threatening words were being directed at him. K.A.T. told the police he would quiet down, and J.F. did not hear anymore from him that day.
Twelve days later, a warrant for K.A.T.’s arrest was issued. He was arrested the following day for violation of the protection order.
After a bench trial in July 2020, the trial court found K.A.T. guilty of violating the protection order. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, all suspended, 12 months of community control, and a $150 dollar fine plus court costs. The trial court stayed appellant’s sentence pending his appeal.
On appeal, K.A.T. argued there was not sufficient evidence presented to show he had directed his comments at J.F. He noted the mens rea needed for violating a protection order is recklessly, and that his behavior was not reckless.
The state’s only witness was J.F., who confirmed there was a protection order against appellant that protected himself and his family.
Appellate Judge Gene Donofrio noted in his opinion that there was sufficient evidence for the court to convict appellant.
“The state presented evidence that a protection order was in place and that per the terms of the order appellant was not to threaten J.F. or his family,” Judge Donofrio stated. “J.F. testified that while he was in his backyard, he heard yelling coming from appellant’s window. J.F. further testified that he recognized appellant’s voice yell two threatening statements, which he believed to be directed at him. Moreover, when he twice looked to appellant’s window, appellant’s yelling stopped both times.
“Appellant contends the state failed to prove that he acted recklessly. But in this case, the state presented sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove appellant acted recklessly. Circumstantial evidence has the same probative value as direct evidence. Appellant knew that there was a protection order in place and that he was not to threaten J.F. or his family. Nonetheless, he yelled threatening comments from his home so loudly that J.F. could hear them while he was in his own backyard. Whether appellant intended to threaten J.F. or not, his conduct demonstrated a ‘heedless indifference’ to the risk that J.F. might hear these threatening words that were in violation of the protection order.”
The appellate court also determined the conviction was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
K.A.T. told the court he is an aspiring actor, and the words J.F. heard were just part of a skit he was performing. K.A.T. also testified that he takes the protection order very seriously and goes out of his way to avoid J.F.
“The trial court believed J.F.’s testimony as truthful,” Judge Donofrio said. “J.F. had a protection order against appellant and felt threatened by appellant’s words on the day in question, which is exactly what the protection order is meant to prevent. Based on the evidence presented, we cannot conclude that the trial court lost its way and created a manifest miscarriage of justice in convicting appellant. Therefore, appellant’s conviction is not against the manifest weight of the evidence.”
Seventh District judges Cheryl L. Waite and David A. D’Apolito concurred. The case is cited State v. K.A.T., 2021-Ohio-4293.