March 28, 2013

Former Murray sheriff’s captain pleads guilty to obstruction

Rachel Brown

— A former Murray County Sheriff’s Office captain who was fired last summer for lying during a civil rights inquiry pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a federal charge of obstructing a pending investigation.

Michael Henderson has said through attorney Larry Stagg that he was accused of lying because he told investigators he had not talked with anyone about a case involving a woman who was arrested on a drug possession charge along with a companion after someone planted drugs on the vehicle she was in.

Now Henderson, a 41-year-old Murray County resident, faces up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for May 31. A working phone number for Henderson could not be found.

Henderson is a cousin of former Murray County chief magistrate Bryant Cochran, who resigned from office citing an unrelated reason shortly after a woman whose case was before him accused Cochran of sexually soliciting her in exchange for a favorable ruling — a charge Cochran denies. That woman, Angela Garmley, was in a vehicle Henderson instructed a sheriff’s deputy to be on the lookout for.

According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, “sometime in July 2012, then-captain Henderson received information that a white Dodge vehicle was being used to carry drugs. He passed this information along to other deputies with the Murray County Sheriff’s Office.” Garmley was arrested that night, cleared within days, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) inquiry into her case was opened.

The release states Henderson said during a GBI interview “that he had never told any other members of the Murray County Sheriff’s Office that he had received information that the white Dodge was allegedly carrying drugs.”

Stagg couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon after prosecutors announced the plea, but he said in previous interviews that Henderson thought the GBI interviewer was asking about something else.

“There’s been an allegation that Mr. Henderson was asked a very general question like ‘Have you talked to anybody about the case?’ and he said, ‘No, I haven’t’ ... not thinking that his fellow officers were part of that question,” Stagg said earlier. “He assumed it was media and other people, and his cousin, of course.”

Garmley’s attorney, McCracken Poston, seemed surprised about the plea, saying he wasn’t aware Henderson had even been indicted.

“Obviously, it’s a great development,” Poston said. “I wish that the victims could have been there to see it. I think that they were entitled to see it, and it’s too bad that they were not given that opportunity.”

A second former sheriff’s office employee, Josh Greeson, is scheduled for trial before Judge Harold Murphy in federal court on April 15. Greeson, a deputy, arrested Garmley and is likewise accused of lying during the investigation.

Greeson has said in interviews he did lie but only because Henderson told him to and he feared what would happen if he refused. In a previous interview, Stagg denied that accusation.