Your Day in [Magistrate] Court: Full Lineup at Prelims



After an exceptionally sparse fall criminal term in Dade Superior Court, October ended with an exceptionally packed day of preliminary criminal hearings on Wednesday in Dade Magistrate Court.

Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick heard no fewer than seven cases in his Oct. 31 session, binding them all over for later trial in the higher court. His alternative in such cases is to dismiss them for lack of evidence. Defendants appear in these preliminary hearings with their attorneys--in all these cases, Public Defender Jennifer Hartline--but do not testify. The magistrate hears only evidence from the arresting police officers, as questioned by Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor.

In the first case, Trenton Policeman Jeff Hartline presented evidence against a 47-year-old Higdon, Ala., man in jail for terroristic threats. Hartline described to ADA Gregor how the man's former girlfriend had called him from the Trenton Food City, where she said the man was "following her again."

She had presented the officer with texts and a voicemail from the man threatening harm to her sister, said Hartline. "You're going to do this to me, I'm going to go ahead and kill your sister and see how you feel about that," Hartline reported the man had said in a voicemail.

Hartline had located, questioned and arrested the man in the parking lot of the nearby Wendy's restaurant. He said the man told him he had menaced the sister because that was the way he felt would most hurt his ex-girlfriend.

The police officer said the sister, who lived in Alabama, was quite concerned about the threats and that Alabama authorities had also been alerted.

The man remains in jail.

High-speed chase

In case no. 2, Dade Deputy Haley Smith described a three-state police chase that began with an impaired-driver alert from Jackson County, Ala., was joined in by officers from Marion County, Tenn., flew through Dade, sped into Alabama and ended up in a police blocking action on Highway 301 back in Dade. Speeds of 105 miles per hour had been reached as the 24-year-old Stevenson, Ala., man veered "lane to lane" in the early hours of Sept. 15 down the interstate and up Sand Mountain on Sulphur Springs Road, pursued by law enforcement from multiple agencies. Deputy Smith said the vehicle was a red Ford pickup truck, and that another officer had observed the driver to be throwing objects out of his window at the pursuing law officers.

On Highway 301, where he was ultimately apprehended, the driver had begun driving on the wrong side of the road, said the deputy, and racked up an aggravated assault charge for swerving toward a DeKalb County, Ala., patrol car. Other charges included fleeing and attempting to elude police, reckless driving and drug charges resulting from digital scales and approximately 3.5 grams--an "8-ball"--of methamphetamine found in the vehicle after the driver was at length stopped. Deputy Smith said the defendant didn't admit to having the meth but reported he had run from police because he was frightened, having only recently been released from jail.

Man who had sex with minor caught after two years

Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith next gave evidence in a case hailing from her work as a Dade County investigator back in 2016. She told the story of a July 4 party at Cloudland Canyon two years ago that provided an opportunity to a man to have sex with his friend's 15-year old daughter. The girl was under the age of consent but did not want the man to get into trouble so did not report the incident until she missed a period and went to her mother with fears of pregnancy.

The mother brought the matter to law enforcement's attention in August 2016, and then-investigator Smith contacted the man via telephone and Facebook message. He promised to come in for questioning but instead disappeared for two years. Recently he had at last been returned to Dade after law enforcement in Richmond County picked him up on the outstanding Dade warrant Chief Smith had originated in September 2016.

The chief said despite the age-of-consent question the man had been charged with aggravated child molestation because of the time lapse--it was too late to charge him with rape. But she said the offense had now been exacerbated by the discovery that the man was HIV-positive, had been so at the time of the 2016 incident, and had been aware of it at the time.

She said the man had told the arresting officer he'd thought the girl was 16, and that alcohol had been involved.

The man remains in jail, with no question of bond raised at the hearing.

Mostly drugs

Case 4 involved a red convertible that had caught the eye of an Officer Stanley in the state Motor Carrier Compliance Division after he'd received a complaint it was "all over the roadway" on I-59 on Oct. 4. He questioned the driver and had an open-air-sniff of the car conducted after the driver pulled off the road into a gas station. "It seemed like an attempt to get us off his tail, basically," said the officer. Pipes and residue or small amounts of marijuana and methamphetamine had been found in the car, and the driver has been in jail ever since. Public Defender Hartline asked Magistrate McCormick to consider the bail amount of $5000, but he declined to do so.

Case 5 involved a man stopped atop Lookout Mountain by Deputy Summer Raley, who had recognized him as having an outstanding warrant. While arresting him on the warrant, she had been removing some knives from his pockets when a methamphetamine smoking device dropped out. He had been charged for that along with traffic charges involving his car's expired registration and lack of insurance.

The power of proper punctuation

In Case 6, Deputy Kevin Haswell gave evidence in the matter of a 35-year-old Chickamauga man charged with possession of methamphetamine. The defendant had been the passenger of a female driver stopped on Aug. 8 for defective taillights, said Haswell, who during the stop had found in the vehicle drug spoons and syringes with methamphetamine residue. Both driver and passenger had been arrested, and during these proceedings, the defendant had turned to the driver and said the words: THESE AIN'T YOURS.

Prosecutor Len Gregor asked Haswell if the defendant's words had been exculpatory, and a statement, as in, "These ain't yours," or accusatory, and a question, as in: "These ain't yours?" The deputy was in favor of the latter, as in: "Why can't you be honest?"

The driver had answered yes to the defendant when he asked her, said the deputy, but no to the police officer when he posed the same question.

Unconscious in the churchyard

Deputy Summer Raley gave evidence in the final case of the day, that of a 27-year-old Boaz, Ala., man she had found unconscious in a car in a Rising Fawn church parking lot with the motor still running. A woman had noticed him there one day in August, then called the police when he, and the idling car, were still there an hour later.

Deputy Raley had woken the man up only with difficulty and had noticed he had a white napkin stained with blood clasped in his lap as well as needle marks in both arms. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy and he'd seemed dazed and confused as he told her her an evolving story about driving from Boaz to Wildwood after recently having undergone rehabilitation for alcohol abuse.

She induced him to turn off his car, and after he'd failed some field sobriety tests, and she had decided not to administer others for fear he would fall and hurt himself, his vehicle also failed a K-9 open-air sniff test. A loaded syringe, heroin and codeine had been found in the car, which the defendant had told Deputy Raley belonged to an uncle. He was charged with an array of drug offenses as well as driving under the influence of drugs and having an expired license plate.

The man had been in jail since his Aug. 17 arrest, and Magistrate McCormick agreed to reconsider setting bond.


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