August 1, 2013

Ex-cop faces possible September trial

Rachel Brown

— James Robert Keown, the ex-Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputy accused of stealing money from a man he arrested, pleaded not guilty before Superior Court Judge William T. Boyett on Wednesday.

Keown and his attorney, J. Tracy Ward, declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

Keown resigned March 12 and turned himself in at the county jail after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry spawned charges of theft by taking and violation of oath by a public officer.

Sheriff’s officials said Keown responded as a backup officer to a March 3 traffic stop at the intersection of East Walnut Avenue and the South Bypass. Mario Daniel Chavez-Hernandez, who had fallen asleep inside his Plymouth Voyager, which was in the northbound lane of the bypass with loud music coming from it, was charged with several crimes. Chavez-Hernandez had an undisclosed amount of cash on him, which Keown is accused of taking.

Records from the Clerk of Court’s office show Chavez-Hernandez was sentenced April 18 to 12 months each for DUI, possession of a fraudulent identification document and possession of marijuana. The sentences were to run concurrently.

Keown’s tentative trial date is Sept. 16. A calendar call to state whether he and prosecutors are ready to proceed is scheduled for Sept. 11.

• Onofre Rodriguez Jr. was also tentatively placed on the Sept. 16 trial calendar after he pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to reckless conduct by an HIV-infected person.

An attorney from the public defender’s office represented Rodriguez and didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Rodriguez was 29 and living at 1029 Ben Hill Road in Dalton when he was charged in April. The alleged victim told police Rodriguez had unprotected sex with her without telling her about his condition.

He is listed on the Georgia Sex Offender Registry for statutory rape committed in 2001.