April 5, 2013

Murray County officials sued again

Attorney says ‘no evidence’ former judge concocted scheme

Rachel Brown

— A Chatsworth woman who claims she was set up for a false arrest by a judge she turned down for sexual favors has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Angela Garmley filed the lawsuit in Rome seeking unspecified damages for emotional suffering and court costs. Her co-plaintiffs are Jason Southern, the man who was driving her home when a Murray County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrested her, and her husband, Joe Garmley, who was arrested for obstruction — a charge the lawsuit claims resulted from officers overreacting. Southern and Angela Garmley were both charged with possession of meth. The charges were dropped after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) determined someone planted a magnetized container of meth on the vehicle.

The lawsuit names as defendants Murray County government, the Murray County Sheriff’s Office, former sheriff Howard Ensley, former chief magistrate Bryant Cochran, former sheriff’s deputy Josh Greeson and former sheriff’s captain Michael Henderson. It accuses county officials of not properly training employees and elected officials, and it claims Ensley didn’t adequately supervise Greeson and Henderson — both of whom Ensley fired for lying in the GBI investigation.

McCracken Poston, one of Angela Garmley’s attorneys, said it was “obvious” Cochran masterminded a scheme to have Garmley arrested, using a tenant at a trailer park he owns to plant the drugs and ordering Henderson — who is Cochran’s cousin — to have underling Greeson make the arrest.

Cochran has denied Garmley’s claims that he sexually solicited her in exchange for a favorable ruling with an issue she brought to him. The lawsuit states that when Garmley didn’t agree to his demands for sexual favors, he retaliated by planting drugs on her vehicle.

“Good luck proving that,” said Page Pate, who is representing Cochran in the criminal investigation. “There’s no evidence that it happened. Despite all of this rumor and innuendo and multi-month grand jury investigation, there have been no official allegations made that he had anything to do with that.”

Both Henderson and Greeson were charged with obstruction during the GBI investigation. Henderson pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing May 31. He faces up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Greeson said he was acting under Henderson’s direction and has pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled for trial April 15.

Phone numbers for Henderson and Greeson could not be found, and Ensley didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

County attorney Greg Kinnamon said he hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit, but allegations in it that the county has an inadequate sexual harassment policy are untrue. He said there is a policy in place that employees were made aware of following another sexual harassment case a few years ago. Individuals who believe they can’t tell their immediate supervisor about harassment can tell the county attorney, he said.

Kinnamon said the county’s insurance carrier will assign an attorney to handle the lawsuit.

Three women who worked for Cochran in the magistrate court office filed a separate federal lawsuit against Cochran and the county last week claiming Cochran sexually harassed them while county officials negligently failed to protect their rights. An attorney handling that case for the county has said he doesn’t believe there is “any liability on the part of the county.”