City man seeks new trial

Ranger contends police found cocaine during illegal search

An Altoona man who faces a 6- to 12-month prison sentence for possession of cocaine is asking the U.S. District Court in Johnstown to grant him a new trial because, he contends, police found the drug in his possession during an illegal search.

The defendant, Olubaya Mudada Mensah Ranger, 36, also complained in a petition filed by his Altoona attorney, Steven P. Passarello, that the prosecution used hearsay evidence to tie him to a drug deal that occurred in October 2015 near a restaurant at Logan Town Centre.

Passarello is asking U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson to grant bail to Ranger pending the outcome of the federal review of the case.

The petition to the federal court comes two weeks after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused further review of the Ranger case, which upheld his conviction and prison sentence imposed by Blair County President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle.

After a trial by judge in 2016, Doyle found Ranger guilty of the possession of cocaine but not guilty of the more serious charges of possession with intent to deliver and criminal use of a communication facility.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the Ranger case came after the state Superior Court, in an opinion issued in July, denied Ranger a new trial.

According to the bail request, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and prosecution attorney, Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman, want Ranger to immediately begin serving his prison sentence.

Passarello is arguing that the federal court has the power to release Ranger on bail.

The defense attorney contends Ranger has raised “meritorious issues” before the federal court and specifically mentioned the alleged Fourth Amendment violation involving the search by police.

Ranger is not a flight risk and would suffer “prejudice” and “injustice” if he is required to serve his jail term before his federal petition is heard, Passarello argued.

The defendant’s arrest occurred as Altoona police and the West Drug Task Force were conducting a buy-bust operation against suspected crack cocaine dealer Henry Charles Agnew of Altoona.

Investigators had made several buys from Agnew, and they intended to arrest him after a buy at Logan Town Centre.

According to the facts aired at the trial, a confidential informant, who has since died, gave Agnew the buy money, and Agnew left the informant because, he allegedly said, he had to go meet his “dude.”

Agnew returned with the cocaine that the informant had paid for, and then he went into a nearby restaurant.

Police followed and saw he was with Ranger and a woman.

When the trio came outside, they were approached by police. Agnew was arrested for his part in the drug deal, and a city police officer searched Ranger, finding cocaine in Ranger’s left front pocket.

Police also found $200 of the $250 buy money on Ranger.

Passarello maintains that police, in approaching Ranger, placed him in “custodial detention,” which meant they needed “probable cause” and a warrant to conduct a search.

Police contended Ranger was in “investigative detention” and that the initial search was for safety reasons.

The defense also is arguing the prosecution used “hearsay” to link Ranger to the drug deal.

The hearsay involved the alleged statement by Agnew to the deceased informant that he had to see his “dude” before concluding the deal.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.