MOUNT VERNON — A search warrant affidavit signed by Judge Jay Nixon at the Knox County Probate Court revealed the shooting death of 42-year-old John Serio by Caleb Sarge, 28, likely stemmed from a drug-related altercation. The warrant authorizes investigators to search the content of three cellphones for evidence.
Sarge was charged with murder and tampering with evidence in the death of Serio. The indictment also included a specification of a .22 caliber revolver. Public Defender John Pyle and John Dankovich have argued that Sarge acted in self-defense.
The night Serio was shot, Nov. 25, a female caller notified law enforcement that Sarge had shot Serio in Sarge’s Sandusky Street residence. She claimed that Sarge told her this information.
When Mount Vernon Police Department officers arrived in the neighborhood, Sarge came out of his door to the porch.
When asked about Serio, Sarge reportedly “got a blank look on his face” and told the officers: “I shot him. I didn’t know what else to do.”
The officers entered the residence with Sarge’s permission and found Serio deceased in the dining room from a gunshot to his chest. Police also reported noticing the .22 caliber revolver and a meth pipe on the living room table.
Sarge told the police that Serio came to his house looking for money for Adderall and attacked him. Sarge admitted to shooting Serio and was placed under arrested.
A sealed search warrant was issued on Nov. 25 to search the Sandusky Street residence. While searching the house, officers reported finding a ledger of drug transations at Sarge’s residence, including people who owed money to Sarge.
A family member of Sarge stated that she received several text messages and a voicemail from Sarge after the shooting. Police were able to listen to the voicemail during the interview. However, the affidavit does not reveal the content of the text messages. It also does not mention whether her phone was collected as evidence.
MVPD officers collected four cellphones as evidence. Two phones were believed to belong to Sarge and a third phone belonged to a female occupant who returned to the residence later that night and the fourth belonged to Serio.
Investigation also found Serio’s cellphone submerged in a saucepan of water at the crime scene, leading to the tampering with evidence charge, according to information previously shared by Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville.
The Jan. 7 affidavit requested a warrant to search the content of the three cellphones seized for evidence of trafficking in drugs and murder.
Serio’s cellphone was sent to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) for extraction of any recoverable information.
McConville confirmed Wednesday that BCI was able to retieve information from the cellphone.
While the victim’s cellphone was too badly damaged and required BCI technology to recover its content, the three additional cellphones are able to remain in the care of MVPD, according to McConville.
The search warrant authorized MVPD and any necessary agency to extract electronic data stored or exchanged with the cellphones.
According to the 2014 Supreme Court ruling of Riley v. California, while law enforcement may search the physical device of a person’s cellphone during an arrest, police generally must obtain a search warrant before searching the phone’s content.
In most cases, the owner is not obligated to provide password to the law enforcement if the phone is password protected. The court may, however, authorize investigation to otherwise access data via forensic extraction technology.
The search warrant for Sarge and the witness’ cellphones authorized investigation to “use whatever data analysis techniques appear necessary to locate and retrieve the evidence.” Evidence such as text messages, call history, location data and previously erased data.
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