By Christopher Smith
A Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputy resigned Tuesday after he was charged with crimes related to taking money during a traffic stop.
James Robert Keown of East Ridge, Tenn., turned himself in at the Whitfield County jail Tuesday afternoon after an arrest warrant was issued for him. He is charged with theft by taking and violation of oath of office by a public officer. A phone number for him could not be found Tuesday afternoon.
On March 5, the sheriff’s office asked Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agents to look into allegations from an individual who said Keown stole cash during a traffic stop, Maj. John Gibson said.
“There’s not a whole of information to divulge,” Gibson said. “Once we turn the case over to the GBI they are the lead investigative unit for the case ... James Harris is the GBI agent involved. When we first got the complaint we looked into it initially and saw there was some validity to the complaint. We decided to call the GBI to assist us — to let them conduct it (as a criminal investigation).”
Harris did not return several messages left for him Tuesday afternoon.
According to the incident report of the traffic stop, Deputy Ryan Rogers was on patrol on Sunday, March 3, when he came to a red light at the intersection of East Walnut Avenue and the South Bypass. Rogers said he noticed a stationary white 2013 Plymouth Voyager in a northbound lane of the bypass with loud music coming from it and Mario Daniel Chavez-Hernandez, the driver, asleep.
The report says Rogers “initiated a traffic stop,” but was unable to wake Chavez-Hernandez and called Deputy Brandon Dalton to help wake him. Keown arrived to help Rogers and Dalton, the report continues, arresting Chavez-Hernandez after he refused to get out of the van.
Chavez-Hernandez told Rogers he was an illegal immigrant as the deputies searched the car, finding alcohol and marijuana in the floorboard. Chavez-Hernandez was charged with DUI, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and possession of drug-related objects. Rogers and Dalton could not be reached Tuesday afternoon, but Gibson said Keown took an undetermined amount of cash during the search.
“A thorough investigation was conducted concerning the allegation,” Sheriff Scott Chitwood said in a press release. “After meeting with District Attorney Bert Poston, the decision was made to obtain an arrest warrant.”