ELYRIA — Police and prosecutors are upset that a county judge has promised to send a man arrested during a November investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses, including several deaths, to the Lorain/Medina Community Based Correctional Facility.
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge made the promise during a hearing Friday in which Siarres “Sizzle” Noble pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, drug possession and other charges in connection with the sale of the dangerous painkiller. Noble also pleaded guilty in two unrelated drug cases.
Given the nature of the charges against Noble, Elyria police officers said they feel strongly that sending him to the Correctional Facility, a low-security facility that works with substance-abuse issues and helps convicts become production members of society, is improper.
“In my opinion, having this guy back out on the street is an injustice, and the sentence he’s going to get is a travesty,” Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said.
Police and prosecutors acknowledged that Noble and the fentanyl overdoses remain under investigation, although they declined to discuss the investigations. Noble was one of several people arrested as police across Lorain County sought to stem the tide of overdoses.
According to a transcript of the hearing, Noble’s attorney, Michael Stepanik, told Burge that his client was willing to plead guilty in his three cases if Burge would follow through on discussions before the hearing that included sentencing Noble to probation and a four-month stint in the Community Based Correctional Facility.
Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer Riedthaler said she wasn’t agreeing to that sentence.
“There have been no agreements made by the State of Ohio, your Honor,” Riedthaler said, according to the transcript. She later pointed out that Noble has been convicted of drug trafficking and other crimes in the past.
Stepanik, however, argued that his client might benefit from the facility’s program, which he has not been through before.
Burge then questioned Noble about whether he has used heroin, something Noble conceded he’s done.
“If you had said no, that would substantially impact my decision,” Burge said, according to the transcript. “I view people earning money different than people who are addicted. So if you are willing to complete the CBCF program, I am willing to play ball with you.”
He then warned Noble that the program isn’t easy. Later in the hearing, Burge rejected a request from Noble, jailed since November, to be released while he awaits sentencing.
The judge, who is a recovering alcoholic, said he believed that if Noble got out of jail before going to the CBCF, he would get high, something Noble insisted he wouldn’t do.
“My brother died about a couple of months ago,” Noble, 29, said. “He always told me if I had (the) chance to get clean that I could be a better person and that stuff. If I had a chance to go home today, I would not use.”
Burge has yet to impose the sentence he discussed with Noble during Friday’s hearing because he is waiting for completion of a pre-sentence investigation, essentially a review of Noble’s background by the county’s Adult Probation Department.
The judge said this week that he wasn’t overly familiar with the facts of Noble’s case and he said prosecutors didn’t put anything on the record about their opposition beyond saying they disagree with the proposed sentence. As far as he knew, the judge said, Noble’s case was a fairly typical drug case.
“Nobody gave my any reason why I shouldn’t (send him to the Correctional Facility),” Burge said.
But county Prosecutor Dennis Will said his staff has made it clear that they oppose Noble receiving probation in the case.
“We’ve made our position known all along that we were not going to agree to that,” he said, adding that prosecutors would go into more detail with Burge about why they believe Noble belongs in prison at the sentencing hearing.
Stepanik said this week that he thought the facility would be good for Noble, and proposed it to Burge.
“I said it gives him the tools required to be a good citizen, and I think the judge agreed,” he said.
Stepanik also said that although Noble had originally been facing more serious drug trafficking charges when he was arrested, much of what police seized ended up not being actual drugs. None of the charges Noble pleaded guilty to carry a presumption that he should go to prison, Stepanik said.
Elyria police Detective Jim Welsh said police seized 75 grams worth of suspected drugs from Noble in November, but only 23 grams of that ended up being fentanyl or a mixture of fentanyl and other substances.
The remainder, Welsh said, wasn’t illegal, but was probably a cutting agent used to bulk up the fentanyl so it would go farther and sell for more money. Welsh said Noble was a key dealer when people started overdosing on fentanyl, which is more powerful than heroin.
“He was the first person we were made aware of that was dealing fentanyl,” he said. “He was definitely a major player when this epidemic of fentanyl struck us.”