Ferry man’s probation revoked

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Thomas Smith, accused of sending threatening messages which resulted in a lockdown at Martins Ferry City School District, saw his probation revoked Monday in Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Vavra’s courtroom.

He will be going back to prison for more than a year.

Smith, 35, of 207 N. Fifth St., Martins Ferry, saw his parole revoked and was returned to jail for two years, with credit for 267 days. Smith is accused of making a threat via social media to pupils at Ayers Elementary School in Martins Ferry early December. His parole was revoked due to the threat allegation and for associating with a known felon.

Smith was originally convicted of possession of drugs, a felony of the fourth degree occurring Jan. 18, 2016.

Belmont County Public Defender Frank Pierce asked that the hearing be continued until after Smith’s preliminary hearing this Wednesday at Belmont County Northern Division Court on the threat allegations to better understand Smith’s full scope of jeopardy. Vavra ruled to conduct the revocation hearing.

Pierce said Smith was unaware that the individual he had associated with was a felon.

“You could have a conversation with somebody on the street who’s a felon, someone you don’t know and you’ve never met before, you know nothing about the criminal history, and you can be charged with violating your probation?” Pierce said.

“Is it not incumbent on the person on probation to know who that are association with?” Belmont County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan said.

Sgt. Jerry Murphy with the Martins Ferry Police Department reviewed the investigation of the threatening messages. He said a woman known to Thomas brought the messages to the attention of the police. Murphy said the woman was receiving messages via social media from a Facebook profile that was not Thomas, and the messages had included threats to her children.

Murphy outlined the process of contacting Facebook and tracking down the source.

“E-mails, IP addresses, cell phone number, all these were pointing to Mr. Smith,” Murphy said.

He added that Thomas was interviewed and said he had not made the Facebook page and said his phone had been borrowed and possibly hacked the evening prior to the threats.

Under questioning from Pierce, Murphy said the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations currently has Smith’s phone.

“The final word isn’t in yet as to whether there’s strong evidence my client was actually texting. You’re waiting for BCI to confirm that,” Pierce said. “The only way we can really be certain it was his fingers typing that is if somebody walking in and caught him.”

“Based on what he told us during questioning, he had his cell phone. He was the only one in possession of his cell phone during the time those messages were sent,” Murphy said.

Smith said he had made every effort to follow his parole obligations and denied making the threats.

“I’m not the one who messaged that girl,” Smith said.

Afterward, Flanagan noted that the hearing was based on preponderance of evidence, not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, so it was not necessary for Vavra to find Smith guilty of sending the messages to revoke probation.