Metro SWAT questioned

Audrey Wagstaff

Testimonies appear to have inconsistencies

James Trimble sits in court yesterday in Ravenna. Testimony should conclude this week with final arguments expected to be made Friday or Monday.

Credit: Steve Schirra

RAVENNA – James Trimble’s attorneys again worked to demonstrate that Sarah Positano’s death was accidental in the Jan. 21 hostage situation at her Ranfield Road address.

Public defenders Dennis Lager and John Laczko questioned three Metro SWAT members during yesterday’s proceedings at the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, focusing on the team’s actions prior to entering Positano’s apartment, 3729B Ranfield Road, and while taking Trimble into custody.

Part of the defense’s questioning centered on discrepancies in the timeline kept by Trisha Wayne, Metro SWAT stenographer.

The timeline indicated the team did not arrive at the duplexes until approximately 11:45 p.m. According to testimony by Scott Robertson, Commander of Metro SWAT, it was difficult to identify the correct duplex because there are several duplexes and homes along the driveway.

“When we positively identified 3729, it was approximately 11:50 p.m.,” Robertson said.

According to Robertson, Trimble told a negotiator before hanging up at 12:02 a.m. that he would release the hostage and kill himself.

“At 12:04, we heard what appeared to be a gunshot at 3729,” Robertson said.

This was determined later to be the gunshot that killed Positano.

About five minutes later, Robertson said the team heard more gunshots.

“They were basically fired at us,” he said. “I was in fear for my life and hit the ground.”

When the shooting stopped, Robertson said he approached the command vehicle and said, “We need to get a Delta Order.”

A Delta Order is requested of the local police chief when there is a hostage situation, when the captor has the means to harm the hostage or when the captor intends to harm the hostage. Robertson requested the order at 12:10 a.m.

“I take responsibility that it wasn’t (requested) earlier,” he said.

This was the first time the Delta Order had ever been requested by Metro SWAT. Essentially, the Delta Order “allows any officer to take a shot on a subject without permission from the commander,” Robertson said.

Robertson also indicated it was not until 12:10 a.m. that Metro SWAT learned the subject was in an upstairs location in unit B.

About that time, the State Highway Patrol negotiator heard Positano gasp and the line go dead; however, the SWAT team would not know for sure whether she was dead until later that morning.

The team did not enter the apartment until 7:30 a.m., first employing a pole camera.

In addition to Robertson’s testimony, the jury also heard from Metro SWAT team members Sgt. Kenneth Ciesla, an assistant commander and Sgt. Jeff Film, assistant commander and medic overseer.

Defense questioning of Ciesla focused on force exercised to handcuff and take Trimble into custody. Lager also showed several photos of Trimble’s face and body taken at Robinson Memorial Hospital.

The photos indicated Trimble had a bloody nose, abrasions on his face and side and a bump above his left eye. None of the officers questioned testified to seeing these injuries.

According to Ciesla and Film’s testimony, Trimble crawled partially out of the upstairs bedroom, concealing his hands. “I kept giving him verbal commands to show his hands, but he did not comply,” Ciesla said.

Ciesla responded by spraying Trimble’s face with CS, commonly known as tear gas. All officers put on gas masks.

“He began wiping his eyes. I saw this as an opportunity to take him out of the room and attempt to handcuff him,” Film said.

Film handcuffed his right arm, but he testified Trimble kept his left arm under his body.

“At that point, I thought he might have a weapon and I drove him to the ground,” he said.

Ciesla said he used two “knee strikes” to gain access to Trimble’s hands.

Trimble was then taken outside and transferred to the Summit County SWAT team, Film said.

Lager said he intends to finish questioning Film today. He also plans to introduce a ballistics expert and more Metro SWAT officers. The prosecution requested its ballistics expert be present. Judge John Enlow said he was researching that possibility.

Enlow said testimony should conclude this week with final arguments expected to be made Friday or Monday.

Contact public affairs reporter Audrey Wagstaff at [email protected].