A Day in [Magistrate] Court: He Said, She Said, They Said, and Then Some

At his monthly criminal court session on Nov. 15, Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick heard preliminary evidence in an assortment of he-said/she-said/they-said domestic cases before finishing with an alleged theft.

All the defendants were in custody, and they appeared before the magistrate in handcuffs, leg irons and prison-orange jumpsuits.

Case 1: He's going to burn down the house!

First, a Sand Mountain man was charged with criminal trespass and terroristic threats after his ex-girlfriend complained he had tried to break into her home. “He stated that he was going to burn the house down with her inside,” testified Dade Sheriff’s Deputy Summer Raley.

Deputy Raley, questioned by prosecutor Len Gregor, said she had first encountered the man at about 11 p.m. on Oct. 30 when she assisted him after he had run out of gas. He told her he was headed for a home on Worley Chapel and asked her to follow him part of the way to make sure his vehicle would make it.

Deputy Raley did so. Then, shortly after parting ways with the distressed motorist, she received a complaint from a Worley Chapel home about the same man having tried to break in there. Deputy Raley located the man again, stopped him and found that he was driving on a suspended license. When she questioned him about the Worley Chapel home, he first told her he hadn’t been there. He then told her the complainant was his girlfriend. When Deputy Raley went to the home, the woman described herself as his ex-girlfriend.

At the home, the ex-girlfriend, her sister and her father all told the deputy the man had in fact been there earlier in the night, uninvited. The ex-girlfriend said he had banged on her door and hadn’t left when she asked him to. When she slipped out the back door and got into her car, he had pursued and asked where she was going. She had driven to her sister’s home.

The ex-girlfriend’s father told the deputy he had thrown the man out the day before. The sister said she had heard him threaten to burn the house down with the ex-girlfriend in it, reported Deputy Raley. The ex-girlfriend told her the man was abusive and that she feared for her safety. She had found him hiding in her garage on several occasions, she told the deputy.

Defense attorney Martin Levitt asked Deputy Raley if she knew the ex-girlfriend and the accused man had a child together. Was she aware the man had been at the house all week working on the plumbing? Had the ex-girlfriend mentioned he had spent the night there during that week? Or that when he had recently been paroled after serving jail time, that was the address to which he’d been released?

Deputy Raley said she understood the house belonged to the ex-girlfriend’s mother. The attorney said it was his understanding it had been foreclosed on, and asked whether the deputy knew who had the right to be there.

Magistrate McCormick bound the terroristic threat charge over to Dade Superior Court but dismissed the criminal trespassing charge. Prosecutor McGregor argued the charge should stand. The magistrate said he’d take it under advisement.

Case 2: Another Boomerang Ex

The next case before Magistrate McCormick also concerned an ex-boyfriend who came uninvited and wouldn’t leave. Deputy Wesley Baird, questioned by Gregor, said he’d gone to a Cloverdale address on Oct. 2 to check out a call from a woman about a man who had come to her home the previous Saturday, Sept. 30.

The man, her ex, had forced his way in, she told the deputy, taken her cellphone when she attempted to call 911, and threatened her with bodily harm if she persisted trying to call. All this was in violation of a restraining order that had been in effect against the man for almost a year, said the officer. He said he’d been to the residence before in response to prior domestic calls—“their home at the time,” he said.

The man’s granddaughter had been staying at the woman’s home for the weekend at the time he’d intruded, said the deputy.

The man himself had been living at an address on the Walker/Catoosa county line since the couple separated, said the deputy, and had walked to the Cloverdale address from there, a feat which had taken him 24 hours. The woman drove him back there the next day, subsequently calling the police to report the invasion.

Public defender Jennifer Hartline asked the police officer if the woman hadn’t in fact picked the man up there. She asked if there had not been some time during the weekend when he had gone to sleep so that the woman could have fled. The deputy had received no such report from the woman, he said.

Magistrate McCormick bound the man over for trial in Dade Superior Court on a charge of aggravated assault. Ms. Hartline asked him to reassess bond, which had been set for $2500, which she said her client could not come up with. Prosecutor McGregor pointed out there were three other complaints against the man.

Magistrate McCormick denied the request.

Case 3: Aggravated Stalking

Next, a man was charged with aggravated stalking for leaving threatening messages on an ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page though she had a protective order out against him. Deputy Dustin Coffman told Prosecutor Gregor he had obtained screenshots of the messages when he was dispatched to the man’s home on Sept. 13 to check out the complaint.

Deputy Coffman said the man had admitted contacting the ex-girlfriend. He said she had lived with him for part of the year she’d had the protective order out on him.

Public defender Hartline asked how far back the deputy had looked at the Facebook messages. He said he’d only looked at the ones the woman had complained about.

Ms. Hartline pointed out the couple had been in constant contact the whole year. “There was some contact that she objected to, but there had been contact all along that she had not objected to,” she said.

She also confirmed that the couple had a child together who, during the time the protective order was in effect but that they had lived together, had also lived in the home with them.

“Doing what you do for a living,” Ms. Hartline asked Deputy Coffman, “would it surprise you if she didn’t want to go forward with this at this time?”

“Not a bit,” replied the deputy.

“Have you ever had a witness lie to you?” Prosecutor Gregor asked in his turn.

“All the time,” said Coffman.

Ms. Hartline offered to show the judge an affidavit by her client. “Y’all work it out between you,” ordered Magistrate McCormick, and bound the case over to the hugher court.

Case 4: He wants what's his

Deputy Hoffman stayed on the witness stand to tell the judge about the next case, in which a young Sand Mountain man was charged with simple assault, terroristic threats and disorderly conduct.

On Oct. 3, said Coffman, he’d been patrolling in the New Home area when he heard the young man yelling loud enough to attract his attention in his patrol car some distance away. He recognized the address from having answered complaints about the young man previously, and got out of his car to investigate.

He found the young man holding forth on the porch of the house while six or so other family members stood in the yard trying to get him to leave. “He wasn’t having it,” said Deputy Coffman.

The young man’s adoptive father had died a few months before, the deputy told prosecutor Gregor, and the recent problems with the young man involved his eagerness to receive his fair inheritance.

Today he had thrown a plate of food at his adoptive mother and then dragged her out of her car when she tried to leave the home. This had upset the other relations, who Deputy Coffman said converged on him in the yard, deluging him with information. The young man wanted funds that weren’t immediately available, they had told him, and had threatened to burn down several of their houses, including his adoptive mother’s, if he were “screwed out of” his inheritance.

Defender Hartline asked Deputy Coffman if the situation hadn’t been affected by the grief and hurt associated with a death in the family. “Mr. D—thinks his grief and hurt outweigh Ms. G—’s,” said the deputy, referring to the young man and his adoptive mother.

“How do you know what Mr. D— thinks?” asked Ms. Hartline.

“He’s very vocal,” explained the deputy.

Ms. Hartline asked if her client hadn’t been outnumbered by the other family members. Coffman said the young man had some strength to him.

“It took two deputies last time he lashed out of one of my fellow officers,” said the deputy.

Prosecutor Gregor objected. Defender Hartline asked Coffman hadn’t been a case of six people against one. “Can I just finish my objection?” said the prosecutor.

Ms. Hartline said the witness hadn’t answered.

“I’m hearing an answer,” said Magistrate McCormick. He bound the case over to Dade Superior Court.

Case 5: Theft by Taking

Finally, the magistrate heard, Gregor prosecuted and Ms. Hartline defended a case of

theft by taking. Other charges against the defendant were possession of a Schedule II substance and drugs not in original container.

Dade County Sheriff’s Investigator Cyndi Thurman testified that she had been called to investigate on Sept. 12 after Deputy Raley had checked out a call from Pilot Travel Center. Management there had video evidence of the defendant’s theft of two GPS tablets valued at $598 from the manager’s office, she said. The defendant worked in maintenance at the travel station and lived nearby.

After Deputy Thurman watched the video, she and two other officers went to the man’s home where his wife admitted them. “She stated he brought the items from work for the children,” said Deputy Thurman.

She said she found pills inside a cigarette pack wrapper which led to the drug charges. But glancing into the couple’s bedroom, she noticed a television reported stolen from the Pilot station.

In fact, she reported, upon investigation the officers had found in the defendant’s home a lengthy inventory of items belonging to the Pilot station, including but not limited to the two tablets; a power converter; two televisions, a 22-inch and 19-inch, with DVD players; 12-packs of toilet paper; hand rags, foot towels, body towels and paper towels; industrial cleaning materials; a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, Bluetooth speakers; seven DVDs; cases of candy including a partial case of Starburst; a toolbox with tools; and “all the keys to the store that were never supposed to leave,” said the deputy. The merchandise, she said, had been valued at $2550.96.

Deputy Thurman said the defendant had first told her the merchandise had been given to him; then that it had been sold to him; and finally that it had been given to him but with the stipulation that the giver wanted drugs in return.

Public defender Hartline asked if any other employees had been questioned. No, she was told. It also emerged that the defendant had worked at the Pilot station while on probation from another burglary charge.

Magistrate McCormick bound the case over to Dade Superior Court for trial.

The magistrate hears criminal and civil cases on separate days once a month. He has the prerogative of binding the criminal cases over to the higher court or of dismissing them if he deems there is not enough evidence to warrant further prosecution.

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