Split decision from jury in Fostoria case

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Attorney John Kahler (left) and Rodney D. Hampton listen to a closing argument during Hampton’s trial in Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Kelbley’s courtroom Monday afternoon.

A jury found a Fostoria man guilty of one charge and not guilty of another during a trial in Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Kelbley’s courtroom Monday.

Rodney D. Hampton, 48, was indicted by a Seneca County grand jury on charges of failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer, a third-degree felony, and obstructing official business, a fifth-degree felony.

The eight-woman, four-man jury found Hampton guilty of failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer and not guilty of obstructing official business after about an hour and a half of deliberations.

The jury also found Hampton caused substantial risk of serious physical harm to Officer Brett Bethel of Fostoria Police Department when Hampton operated a vehicle.

In her opening statement, Stephanie Kiser, assistant Seneca County prosecutor, told the jury it was going to be a simple, straight-forward case.

Kiser said testimony from Bethel would show Hampton operated a vehicle to elude or flee the officer after receiving a signal to stop Oct. 9, 2016. It was not a complicated case, Kiser said.

“This was a brief but serious incident occurring in the middle of the night,” she said.

John Kahler, Hampton’s attorney, said the officer didn’t give Hampton a reason to know he was a police officer. The officer parked on a different street and walked to where Hampton had his car parked, Kahler said.

“The officer didn’t approach the scene with sirens blaring or police lights flashing. He didn’t denounce himself as a police officer as they do on TV. … Rodney’s car windows were up,” he said.

Kahler said Hampton drove away, not realizing he left a Fostoria Police Department officer. He was shocked at the charges, Kahler said.

Bethel testified a man reported a suspicious person in his neighbor’s garage, and he responded to Countyline Street. He said he parked several houses down on West North Street to approach the area on foot.

Bethel said he knocked on the window, which came down several inches, and Hampton said, “I’m sorry officer. You scared me.”

Bethel said he heard the vehicle start and saw Hampton put it in gear. He said it abruptly took off in reverse, and he quickly jumped out of the way.

He testified he chased the vehicle, ordered Hampton to stop and identified himself as a police officer. The vehicle quickly accelerated forward, he said.

“In the act of leaving the scene, he almost ran me over,” Bethel said.

Hampton took the stand Monday afternoon. He testified he saw a flashlight, but not a person.

“I didn’t know who it was,” he said.

Hampton said he thought he had to protect himself and his girlfriend at that time. He said he had been a victim of an attempted carjacking in Toledo previously and was nervous and scared the night of the incident in Fostoria.

“I know that I’m innocent. … I’m telling the truth,” he said.

Hampton most recently was indicted by a Seneca County grand jury on a charge of escape, a fifth-degree felony.

In March, Kelbley ordered a bench warrant to be issued for Hampton’s arrest for allegedly failing to appear for a drug screen, court records state.