Prosecutors: Ex-officer on trial for rape sought ‘vulnerable’ women

Updated Aug 20, 2018

A former Phillipsburg police officer used his badge, gun and handcuffs to prey on defenseless women for sex, a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor alleged during opening statements of Justin Sanderson’s trial.

Sanderson, 33, had been indicted on 21 counts including seven for sexual battery, four for interfering with civil rights, three for rape, two each for gross sexual imposition, kidnapping and unauthorized use of the Ohio law enforcement gateway system and one for aggravated burglary. Two counts were dismissed by prosecutors on Monday, so Sanderson is being tried on 19 counts.

The alleged crimes happened against four women during three incidents in May and June 2017. Two counts were dismissed before Monday’s bench trial began in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Dankof’s courtroom.

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“Using the authority entrusted in him by that small town, he sought out women,” assistant prosecutor Dylan Smearcheck told Dankof. “And he sought out women he perceived to be vulnerable. You’re going to hear from four of these women.”

Defense attorney Anthony VanNoy told Dankof — hearing the case after Sanderson waived a jury trial — that the alleged victims lied, had financial and other motivation and that evidence supports Sanderson’s innocence.

“The story of Justin Sanderson’s innocence begins with words such as arrogant, selfish, morally repugnant, habitual adulterer, rogue officer, selfish, grandiose ideas about police investigations,” VanNoy said. “He is not a rapist nor a sexual assaulter, burglar. The evidence of his moral failures will be pretty clear in this case and prominent.

“And because of those moral character flaws, the state’s hope is that the court will focus on those and not pay attention to the evidence of his innocence.”

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In her opening, Smearcheck told Dankof that Sanderson took two victims back to an otherwise-empty village police station and had sexual contact while the women were handcuffed.

“Most police officers pursue their career because they want to protect and serve their community,” Smearcheck said. “They carry themselves with honor and dignity, and they act with integrity. Justin Sanderson is not most police officers.

“He’s someone who saw the uniform as a means to an end. He wanted to gain authority over other people. Power, that’s what he saw in the job.”

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The first seven counts stem from May 20, 2017, when Sanderson allegedly forcibly performed oral sex and sexual intercourse while the woman was restrained and in custody, according to a bill of particulars filed by prosecutors.

Sanderson’s activity log showed he left Phillipsburg for a “courtesy” ride back to Greenville, where prosecutors say one of the victims lived.

Counts 8-12 stem from June 3, 2017, when Sanderson allegedly digitally penetrated a restrained woman who was in custody, the same records allege. Prosecutors said the married victim had a warrant for her arrest from a shoplifting incident.

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Counts 13-21 stem from June 28, 2017, when Sanderson allegedly met up with two women who had advertised on Backpage.com at a Vandalia hotel and agreed on $180 for services, according to the bill of particulars and prosecutors.

Sanderson and Phillipsburg officials, including police Chief Mark Wysong, also have been sued by alleged victims in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

Wysong testified Monday that a Phillipsburg officer would have limited reasons or authority to leave the jurisdiction during their shift. Wysong agreed that dispatch logs didn’t match Sanderson’s activity log and that Sanderson didn’t follow departmental procedure regarding warrants.

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