Sandersville, GA – A Georgia judge had no choice but to dismiss a case against three former deputies brought by the District Attorney’s Office after revelations that Middle Georgia Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman dismissed the court reporter during the grand jury testimony thereby leaving no record of statements. The defense team conveniently filed a motion to have the case dismissed and throw out the indictments on the grounds no official transcript of grand jury testimony existed to corroborate or debunk any future claims.
In his dismissal, Judge H. Gibbs Flanders Jr. noted the district attorney’s error when he told the court reporter she was not needed the day the grand jury met in closed session. The judge did leave the door open for the case to be re-submitted to a grand jury with a court reporter present.
Washington County deputies Henry L. Copeland, Rhett Scott and Michael Howell were indicted Dec. 19 on charges of felony murder and “considered for the indictment of involuntary manslaughter, for the offense of false imprisonment, for the offense of aggravated assault, for the offense of simple battery and for the offense of reckless conduct,” said Altman.
The officers spent some time on administrative paid leave while the Georgia Bureau of Investigation looked into the death of 58-year-old Eurie Lee Martin, a Black man with a reported mental illness, at the hands of the deputies. Martin collapsed after being shocked multiple times by deputies according to Online Athens. A video of the confrontation showed Martin experiencing physical distress before becoming unresponsive. Revelations brought forth in the investigation led to the firing of all three officers.
“He was just taking a walk and was actually headed to see his family. That is scary when you are going to see someone you love, you set out on a walk and you end up having to be buried,” Mawuli Mel Davis, an attorney for the family, said.
Sheriff Thomas Smith admitted that the officers did not follow proper protocol when it came to use of force.
According to Emanuel County Live, Altman was elected into office only in 2009 but has been in service to the State of Georgia since 1987. He was named the 2017 District Attorney of the Year last July. The honor “recognizes exemplary leaders with a commendable amount of dedication to the field of prosecution.”
For a seasoned prosecutor with a title as long as Altman’s, to overlook the rudimentary process of having a court reporter present during grand jury testimony is a dereliction of duty at best. At worst, it is the conscientious decision to leave a legal loophole to which the defense can save you from nailing your colleagues to the cross of justice. All evidence pointed to the officers’ mishandling of the Martin call. Dashcam video backed up claims initially denied by authorities. These officers were clearly on their way to the “big house”.
Instead, due to a “mistake” on the part of DA Hayward Altman, the former officers will avoid prosecution and certain jail time. The officers will be able to file a claim to have their jobs back while also collecting back pay and any damages awarded for wrongful termination.
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