Ex-Phillipsburg police officer Justin Sanderson used his badge as a shield to cover his crimes against women while he was on duty, prosecutors argued Thursday during closing arguments in Sanderson’s four-day trial.
Sanderson, 33, is on trial in front of Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Dankof for 19 counts including rape and kidnapping related to three separate incidents involving four women during May and June 2017. Sanderson waived a jury trial.
Defense attorney Anthony VanNoy told Dankof that there was only sexual conduct between Sanderson and one of the alleged victims, whom he had stopped for suspicion of drunk driving. VanNoy said that contact was consensual and could have happened because she was trying to get out of criminal trouble.
MORE COVERAGE OF THE TRIAL
Dankof said Thursday he plans to announce his verdicts during his regular docket Aug. 29.
The closing arguments came after Sanderson declined to testify on his own behalf on Thursday. The day started with testimony from a Vandalia police detective about Sanderson’s arrest at the Knights Inn there in 2017 and that department’s investigation.
“Power. That’s why we’re here,” Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Dylan Smearcheck said. “Justin Sanderson wanted power. He wanted to be in charge. And when a small town gave him a little bit of power, he exploited it.”
Smearcheck reiterated that Sanderson sought out vulnerable women.
“Because who would believe a women with a warrant for her arrest?” Smearcheck asked. “Who would believe a woman who was driving drunk and who would believe two prostitutes when it’s their word against the word of an officer of the law? Who would ever believe these women? Any objective fact-finder, that’s who.”
Smearcheck recapped the charges related to each allegation, starting with a 21-year-old woman stopped for suspicion of drunk driving whom Sanderson took back to Phillipsburg’s village office.
Testimony showed Sanderson’s semen and the woman’s DNA were both found in the council room.
“He had a badge and a gun,” Smearcheck said. “He had her in handcuffs. He knew the area. He had all the power, and she had none of it.”
The prosecutor also reviewed the allegations of a woman Sanderson picked up on an active warrant and two prostitutes whom Sanderson visited in a Vandalia hotel under the guise of a human trafficking investigation that was not known about by Phillipsburg’s police chief. Sanderson admitted to investigators that he briefly put on a condom but said there was no sexual activity.
“An officer’s badge is a symbol of public faith,” Smearcheck said, later adding, “It is precisely that public faith that he relied on to commit his crimes.”
“It was from behind that badge that he targeted, intimidated and victimized women,” he continued. “… He hoped his badge would shield him. Remember what he said in his interview, ‘People will do whatever is asked of them if a guy is in uniform.’”
VanNoy said a second woman detained in Phillipsburg’s building and allegedly violated by Sanderson, aside from the woman he had stopped, had financial motivations to make her claims.He said the prostitutes provided no proof of sex and, even if there were sex, the women asked for payment, which proves consent.
VanNoy said the women had “reasons all could have been (lawfully) arrested and detained.”
In her rebuttal close, Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Kelly Madzey said the women in the different incidents didn’t know each other, so “there’s no wagon to jump on yet.”
Madzey also said that two of the women who didn’t initially come forward agreed that “cops stick together” and that the perception of the brotherhood of civil service “becomes a pretty terrifying line to cross without proof.