Heroin in the Methadone Clinic Parking Lot, Ass-Kicking Threats, et al.: A Day in [Magistrate] Court

Dade Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick had an unusually long and varied monthly criminal session on Wednesday, encompassing a broad spectrum of police cases and culminating in a sprawling family feud as he held a warrant hearing for warring in-laws.

First, the magistrate heard a sodomy case involving the defendant’s alleged inappropriate sexual contact with the intellectually challenged daughter of the woman in whose home he lived.

The defendant, 31, sat in handcuffs and prison-orange overalls with public defender Jennifer Hartline as prosecutor Len Gregor presented the case against him: Dade Deputy Cyndi Thurman testified that the defendant lived in an extended-family situation in the home of a woman and her teenaged daughters, with both of whom he is accused of having some degree of sexual contact. The detective, though, presented evidence only in the case of the 17-year-old daughter.

The defendant was accused of inducing the girl to let him suck on her breasts and, on two occasions, perform oral sex on him. “He stated it was consensual,” said the detective of the defendant. Under investigation, she said, the man had told her: “I mean, it wasn’t like I forced her.”

In Georgia, it emerged, the age of consent for sex is 16. But there was another element in the question of the girl’s competence to give consent: She had an IQ of about 55.

The girl, interviewed by the Child Advocacy Center, had said she had told the defendant, “Maybe,” meaning “maybe yes, maybe no.” “But he did it anyway,” the detective testified the girl had reported.

“She advised us she didn’t want to do it, it was nasty,” said the detective. “And he promised he would buy her something, but he never did.”

Detective Thurman said when she’d initially confronted the man he had asked her, “How much trouble am I in?”

He said he didn’t know what had come over him, she told the magistrate.

Where was the mother while this was happening? asked defense attorney Hartline.

In her bedroom, said the detective.

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

Next, Drug Task Force agent Matt Cole testified in the case of another jailed defendant accused of possession of a user amount of methamphetamine. The meth, explained Cole, had been discovered on the man when he was routinely patted down after law officers entered a trailer home to investigate drug activity by the individuals living there. “From my understanding, he was just visiting,” testified Cole.

At first, testified the lawman, “he almost made it sound like the container was planted on him.” But meth had been found in the living room of the trailer in plain sight, and syringes had been recovered hidden in pillows. The defendant, concluded Cole, had been patted down, and subsequently jailed for the resulting possession charge, because: “He was at a house with narcotics.”

The judge bound that case over for trial, too.

“Oh s---t, I have heroin on me.”

The next case involved car theft as well as drug charges. A 61-year-old Tennessee man had been in jail since Feb. 13, when heroin was found in his possession as he drove a stolen car to a local methadone treatment clinic.

Deputy Kevin Haswell testified how the owner of a 2016 Toyota Camry he had reported stolen had tipped him off that the alleged car thief—who used to work for him—would drive the Camry to the Tri-State Treatment Center in Wildwood the next day. The deputy had accordingly been waiting near the Highway 299 I-59 exit the following morning when a car matching the tipster’s description pulled off the interstate.

Haswell had attempted to perform a traffic stop on the Camry at that point but it had proceeded to the clinic before it came to a stop. When Haswell asked the driver why he didn’t stop immediately, he had answered that as he was headed to the clinic anyway he thought he might as well pull in there.

Haswell asked the driver for his driver’s license but the driver told him he didn’t have it on him. The man initially gave the officer his correct last name but the wrong first name, George. The officer, checking through the police computer, found that that name had a valid license but one active warrant out against him. The defendant had then admitted his first name was not George but Jerry. The ensuing computer check found that Jerry had a valid driver’s license but two warrants against him, and in any case the Toyota had in fact been reported stolen.

Other deputies had arrived to back Haswell up. The man admitted having a BB gun in the car’s console. Haswell retrieved it, and also found a baggie of a substance that field-tested as heroin. Asked if there were contraband substances in the car, the defendant had replied, reported Haswell, “Not that I know, and if so, it’s not mine.”

But questioned separately, the passenger in the Toyota had told deputies the defendant had said, “Oh s---t, I have heroin on me.”

Both the defendant and his passenger were arrested on drug charges and taken to the jail.

Magistrate McCormick bound this case over to Dade Superior for trial as well. Meanwhile, though, public defender Hartline told him that bail had been set for $15,000 and asked him to lessen it. Prosecutor Gregor objected, saying the defendant had no connection to the Dade community and had a lengthy criminal history. Checking his notes before commenting further, Gregor began flipping page after page, reading in silence, then flipping to another page.

“Is that all criminal history you’re looking at?” asked Magistrate McCormick.

“Yes,” said the prosecutor.

“I’m going to leave the bond the same as it is,” said the judge.

The next case involved a 40-year-old woman who was found in alleged possession of methamphetamine while on active probation from another charge. A bag of crystal meth had been found hidden in a spool of yarn at the woman’s house, testified Deputy Summer Raley.

The arrest had been precipitated, explained the deputy, by a traffic stop the day before, when a passenger in the stopped car had taken off on foot and ultimately been found at the defendant’s home. Magistrate McCormick bound the defendant over for trial in Dade Superior.

He wants to kick my ass!

That was the end of the police cases. The magistrate then summoned two young men before him, who said they were brothers-in-law. In the audience behind the young man on the prosecution side of the courtroom sat his mother. In the audience behind the young man on the defendant side sat his wife, sister of the other young man.

Magistrate McCormick explained after the proceeding that this was a warrant hearing. Citizens are allowed, he explained, to bring each other before a magistrate judge to ask for arrest warrants. In this case, the charge was terroristic threats.

“This man said he’s been wanting to kick my ass since the day he met me,” said the accusing young man of his brother-in-law.

The accuser laid his case out to the judge. His sister and brother-in-law had their cellphones through the mother, to whom they owed money. His mother had thus instructed him to have their lines cut off, at which point the threats had started.

“I don’t know him all that well,” said the accuser. “I’m scared. I don’t want my mom and my aunt to come home and find me dead.”

His brother-in-law, when it was his turn to speak, did not deny he had threatened to kick his accuser's ass. But: “I’m not going to lay a hand on you,” he said. “I spoke to you like I would a little brother.”

He also did not deny he and his wife owed the mother money. But he said they couldn’t pay since they’d lost their jobs as a result of the mother taking away the car they drove.

“It’s my car,” pointed out the mother from the audience.

“You need to pay her,” Magistrate McCormick told the accused brother-in-law after he had listened to both sides.

But payment of the money must happen through the magistrate court, he specified; there was to be no direct contact between the two households. He said he was issuing a “good behavior bond” in this case, not an arrest warrant. But he told the parties that if they did make contact with each other, they could end up arrested.

The accused prospective ass kicker saw a problem with that: He and his wife were soon expecting a visit from their daughter. His mother- and brother-in-law were sure to want to participate, he told the judge.

“That’s also my granddaughter,” pointed out the mother from the audience.

Magistrate McCormick forbade the two households to visit each other even in the face of this culmination, and sent them forth from his courtroom with the admonition: “I would encourage you to live a life of less drama.”

The magistrate holds one civil and one criminal court session every month, at 10 a.m. in the new Dade courts facility.

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