Judge suppresses evidence of downloaded child porn in federal case against child rapist

September 28, 2018

Judge suppresses evidence of downloaded child porn in federal case against child rapist

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A federal judge on Thursday suppressed evidence that authorities said showed that a child rapist downloaded and viewed child pornography after his release from prison.

U.S. District Judge John Adams’ decision means that the U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot use evidence collected from a cellphone, a computer hard drive and a micro SD card in a trial for Kent man Donald Neff. The Ohio Internet Crimes Against Task Force said all three devices had images of child pornography, which formed the basis for a federal charge Neff faces.

Neff, 51, is awaiting trial in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. He has two convictions for sex crimes against children.

Adams, whose courthouse is in Akron, wrote in an order that authorities found the files as a result of a visit Neff received from Ohio Adult Parole Authority officers Everett Rogers and Sarah Rannebarger in March 2017. They testified at a hearing in June that they decided to search Neff’s cellphone because Neff acted nervous and stuttered when the officers asked about his phone.

Neff later admitted that he kept other electronic devices at a friend’s house, and authorities seized searched those as well.

The problem, Adams wrote, is that neither the parole officers nor their supervisor mentioned Neff’s behavior as the basis to search his cellphone in their written reports. In fact, the parole authority didn’t provide any documentation referencing Neff’s behavior until after Neff’s lawyer Christos Georgalis asked to suppress the evidence, according to the judge.

In normal circumstances, the officers’ suspicions and a nervous reaction would provide enough reasonable suspicion for an officer to conduct a search, the judge wrote. But “given that Neff’s behavior was the exclusive basis for searching his phone, it defies logic that there is no mention of that behavior in any report produced contemporaneously with the search,” he wrote.

Adams also wrote that Neff’s statements in March 2017 did not give the parole officers reasonable suspicion to search his other devices, so that evidence must also be suppressed.

“It is not without some reluctance that the Court finds that the parole officer’s description of Neff’s conduct during the home visit lacks credibility,” Adams wrote.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment

Neff was sentenced to two years in prison in 1990 for committing sexual battery on a 12-year-old boy. A judge sentenced Neff to 15 years in prison in 2000 for raping two boys.

He was released from prison in September 2015.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian McDonough wrote in a court filing that Neff admitted to authorities in multiple interviews in 2017 that he received, viewed and sent images of naked boys. Neff said he viewed the images at his home and later deleted them, the prosecutor wrote.

Neff also admitted in a formal parole hearing that he viewed child pornography.

Adams’ order said the U.S. Attorney’s Office suggested that Neff’s admission at his parole hearing meant that police would have inevitably found the child porn files. Adams rejected that argument.

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