Dade Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick faced a long docket of cuffed and ankle-shackled detainees in prison orange as he heard preliminary evidence against them on Wednesday. All prosecution evidence was presented by Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor. Public Defender Jennifer Hartline handled defense in each case.
The first suspect, a 25-year-old Scottsboro, Ala., man, faced charges of speeding, attempting to elude police and theft by bringing stolen property into the state. Sgt. Casey York of the Dade Sheriff’s Office testified that he’d noticed the man on I-24 north of the I-59 split driving a blue Honda Accord west on Feb. 23 at about 1:30 a.m. The sergeant’s attention was drawn to the Honda because as it passed where he sat stationary in his police cruiser its brake lights were engaged “unnecessarily” and because the driver looked “nervous.”
The deputy got into traffic behind the Honda and it sped up. The officer did too, and clocked the Honda at 100 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone as it proceeded onto I-59 South and continued toward Alabama. When the deputy turned on his blue lights, the driver refused to pull over; same story when the officer engaged his siren and ordered the man to stop with his P.A. system. Meanwhile, York had called the license plate and learned that the Honda had been reported stolen.
The pursuit continued at speeds of 80-100 miles mph until, at the Alabama state line, DeKalb County law officers took over. They spike-stripped the road and stopped the Honda close to Fort Payne, where the driver was taken into custody.
Defense attorney Hartline, questioning the sergeant, ascertained that the Honda was a 2004 model with a blue book value of $752-$1603, and that the stop had been initiated because of the driver’s unnecessary braking and “nervous look” rather than due to any actual traffic violation.
Deputy Haley Smith then took the witness stand to testify that she had stopped the next detainee at around 1 a.m. on July 9 on I-24 because his window tint was darker than the legal limit and his tag light was out.
Questioning the detainee--the 19-year-old driver, who was from Unionville, Tenn.--and his 21-year-old male passenger, the deputy noticed that both exhibited indications of narcotic use. She asked permission to search the vehicle, was denied, and called for Sgt. York and his drug-sniffing K-9 partner.
The dog alerted, and the two officers then found in the car a box secured with a combination lock. Both driver and passenger denied owning the box or knowing the combination. Sgt. York cut the lock with bolt cutters. Inside was half a pound—228 grams—of crystal methamphetamine. “I’m sorry, dude,” the driver said to the passenger, Deputy Smith reported.
Defense attorney Hartline questioned the deputy as to what she had recorded and reviewed on her body camera. The suspect faces charges of possession of and trafficking in meth as well as a traffic violation for the tag light.
#3--Hangin' Out and Chillin'
Sgt. York took the stand again for the next case, a long saga involving a 35-year-old Sand Mountain man who had struck his wife, fired shots and ended up with an injury to one of his own fingers.
The sergeant described how he had been dispatched to a New Home Road address to check out an anonymous tip that someone had fired shots in an apparent suicide attempt. Entering the trailer home, York and other deputies accompanying him found bloodstains in the living room and a 9-millimeter semiautomatic gun partly under a sofa cushion but mostly visible .
York found the detainee in a bedroom lying down partially covered with a sheet or blanket. York ordered the man to show him his hands. The man did so and shot York “the bird.” In doing so, he revealed that he had injured a finger. Initially the man claimed he had hurt himself with a fishhook, but later admitted he may have fired a gun. He told the officers his 7-year-old son had been there, that he wasn’t now, and that he might be with the man’s wife, who had also been present earlier.
Sgt. York found a backpack containing bloody clothes and ammunition for the gun which the man admitted ownership of. He obtained confirmation from the sheriff’s office that the man was a convicted felon, and arrested him.
Meanwhile, officers had tracked down the suspect’s wife through her parents, to whose Scratch Ankle road house she had fled after leaving the New Home trailer. They ascertained she had her son with her. The parents had observed her face to be swollen and said she had told them her husband had hit her, had tried to keep her from taking the son with her, and had fired shots in her direction as she left.
Deputy Smith, who had been one of the officers present, traveled to Alabama and interviewed the wife. She confirmed her husband had punched her and that he’d shot behind her as she left but she couldn’t say if he’d been firing directly at her. “She never turned around,” said York. The little boy, also interviewed, said his father had hit his mother “a lot,” shot at her, then shot himself.
The man faced charges of assault, cruelty to children for allowing his son to witness the assault, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Defense attorney Hartline ascertained that other people had been present during the events described above but that no one had claimed responsibility for calling the police. York said that some drinking had been going on and that the detainee had shown signs of being under the use of a stimulant such as methamphetamine. York confirmed that the detainee and his wife had not lived at the New Home address but had been among the guests who said they were there “hangin’ out and chillin’.”
The other people present had also told police officers the detainee had hit his wife and fired shots as she left.
Prosecutor Gregor objected to defender Hartline’s continued questioning, arguing that enough evidence had been presented to show probable cause. “We can wrap this one up any time as far as I’m concerned,” Magistrate McCormick agreed.
A bond hearing had been set in Dade Superior Court for Aug. 23, and McCormick let that stand.
The next case involved an alleged “chop shop” that Drug Task Force agent Matt Cole had discovered by accident on July 23 at a New Home address while looking for a suspect in a drug matter. Arriving, he saw a fleeing figure running around the house and into the woods whom from the general build he believed to be his 31-year-old suspect, but he didn’t see the man’s face. What he did see was tarpaulins hanging in trees as if to mask the contents of the yard from view from the road. Those contents were a white Honda Accord minus its doors, steering wheel, doors, seats, et cetera. “It had been pretty much completely stripped,” said Cole.
Cole and other deputies located all four doors in different sections of the property but it appeared that some of the white Honda’s parts were in the process of being transferred to a 2004 black Honda parked beside it. Cole learned from dispatch that the white Honda had been reported stolen from East Ridge, Tenn., around Christmas.
Cole knocked at the door of the residence and was told by first a man and then a woman that his suspect had just been out in the yard. (Dispatch also told Cole that there were outstanding warrants on both the man and the woman.) But Cole did not find his original suspect until three days later when he acted on another tip that the man was staying in a camper at another address not far removed.
On July 26, sure enough, Cole found his suspect asleep in the camper, apparently under the influence of a drug, and in possession of a firearm. “Look, man, I didn’t now the car was stolen,” he told Cole of the Honda. “It was sitting there for months.”
But Cole said at the second address, where he found his suspect, there was a second stolen vehicle, a Dodge Neon that had been reported stolen out of Chattanooga.
The man faces charges of owning and operating a chop shop, theft by receiving and possession of firearm by convicted felon.
Judge McCormick next heard evidence from Georgia State Patrol Trooper Joe Geddie, who, checking out a report of a possibly drunk driver, had stopped a motorist on July 28 and arrested him for failure to maintain lane, possession of marijuana, drugs to be kept in original container, and driving under the influence of drugs. He described how the 31-year-old Louisville, Ky., man had slurred his speech, suffered from eyelid tremors, and been found in possession of pills of a Xanax-like drug and marijuana.
#6 But what about the dog?
Next, Deputy Misty McConathy gave evidence against a young man accused of burglary, criminal trespass and entering an automobile with the intent to commit theft. The man, 24, of Chattanooga, had been arrested at a Saddle Club Road address after the homeowner’s son—who lived on the same property in a trailer—spotted him on the porch of his father’s home holding the homeowner’s dog on a leash.
Also on the porch were the suspect’s pants, socks and shoes, said the deputy. He was wearing a white shirt and dark shorts, she said, and she did not know why he had removed the other garments. But she said the reason the young man told her he was there was to retrieve a camper from the property, which he had intended to remove using a truck belonging to the son. To that end, he had allegedly taken from the truck a set of keys, from which stems the entering-an-auto, and from a storage shed on the property a pry bar, which generated the burglary charge. As for the dog, Deputy McConathy’s voice was not of a sufficient volume to lend The Planet much guidance there.
Asked whether the suspect appeared to be under the influence of any substance that would alter his behavior, the deputy replied: “I don’t know his normal behavior.”
Deputy Summer Raley told the magistrate about finding the next suspect, a petite 18-year-old female, fast asleep in a pickup truck at the Mapco on Highway 299 at about 12:30 a.m. on July 22. There was some damage to the vehicle that looked fresh, she said, and the young woman had bruises on her arms consistent with IV drug use. After waking the suspect with some difficulty, Deput Raley and another deputy had questioned the detainee who told them she had used methamphetamine within the last 12 hours. A drug dog alerted on the vehicle, and behind a door lining were found a crystal substance and 26 pills of a Xanax-like drug.
The truck belonged not to her, said the suspect, but to a close friend of her mother she called her uncle, who had leant it to her. She said her mother had died and she had been living with the uncle but he had gotten rough with her. She said the drugs belonged to “Uncle Walter” and the deputies could call him and confirm that.
The young lady was booked for driving while license suspended or revoked, possession of a Schedule IV controlled substance and possession of methamphetamine.
Finally, Investigator Don Hicks told the magistrate about July 19, when a manhunt ended in anticlimax—and in the arrest of the 35-year-old Trenton man in orange who sat at the defendant’s table. Hicks, Dade Sheriff Ray Cross and other law officers had surrounded a house on Gulch Road to look for a fugitive from justice. They didn’t find their perp, but the sheriff did find a blue pill and a green leafy substance in a bedroom. Obtaining permission to search further, the officers found a glass smoking apparatus and a blue plastic straw. The homeowner, a woman, and the suspect were both arrested, and the suspect faces charges of methamphetamine possession.
Magistrate McCormick bound all these cases over to Dade Superior Court. His alternative is to dismiss them for lack of evidence, a rare occurrence. They may now go to trial in October or a subsequent criminal term or make plea arrangements.