Josh Greeson lied.
But the former Murray County Sheriff’s Office deputy said he was just following orders when he did not tell the truth during a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry last year. Greeson said a supervisor told him to lie, and he was afraid to disobey the directive.
“I was told when I first come to work there by my corporal I had (that) the best thing to do was to keep on his good side,” Greeson said Wednesday afternoon. “I always tried to stay on his good side.”
Greeson pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Walter E. Johnson to charges that he lied in the investigation and tried to conceal evidence.
Greeson, 25, of Chatsworth, had worked for the sheriff’s office nearly five years when he said Capt. Michael Henderson told him over the summer to be on the lookout for a car he was told was being driven by someone believed to be in possession of drugs. Greeson said he spotted the car several days after that, pulled the car over, used a drug dog to locate a magnetized metal container of methamphetamine underneath the car and arrested the two people inside — Chatsworth residents Angela Garmley and Jason Southern.
District Attorney Bert Poston said within a few days he wouldn’t prosecute the case because of some other evidence and that the matter had been turned over to the GBI. The U.S. Attorney’s office has since said someone, though not Greeson, planted the drugs on the car.
Garmley’s attorney, McCracken Poston of Ringgold, said that before her arrest, his client had recently accused Henderson’s cousin, then-Murray County Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran, of soliciting sexual favors from her. Shortly after she came forward, a judicial watchdog agency began investigating those allegations as well as a charge that Cochran pre-signed several warrants.
Cochran resigned and admitted to pre-signing warrants before the agency announced its findings, but he said through an attorney he never issued any of the pre-signed papers or did not plan to do so without a hearing. He’s also denied the sexual allegations and being involved in Garmley’s arrest.
Charged with breaching public trust
McCracken Poston, however, said his client believes Cochran was involved in the false arrest since he owns a trailer park where a man who helped manage the park was spotted near Garmley’s car with no apparent explanation just hours before Greeson arrested her.
Greeson said Henderson stopped by his home in August 2012 the day before Greeson spoke to GBI investigators.
“I can’t remember exactly how he put it, but it was for me not to mention the lookout on the vehicle that he gave me,” Greeson said. “He told me that I was the only one that knew about the lookout on the vehicle and that if I didn’t say nothing about the vehicle that nobody else would know about it.
“When I went there and talked to them (GBI investigators) the first time I told them what he said because I was scared of what he would do if I didn’t, and then I went back straight myself and told them that that wasn’t right. That’s the only thing I told them that was not right.”
A phone number for Henderson could not be found, and a message left for Ringgold attorney Larry Stagg, who represented Henderson at least during the early phases of the inquiry, wasn’t returned. It wasn’t clear if Stagg is still Henderson’s attorney.
Stagg has said in previous interviews his client denies any wrongdoing in regard to Garmley and was only involved in the arrest as the closest available backup to Greeson.
A federal grand jury indicted Greeson on Jan. 3.
“Greeson is charged with breaching the public trust by lying to agents and concealing information in order to obstruct a civil rights investigation,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian wrote in a statement. “Now, he faces his own federal charges and potential time in federal prison.”
Yates said the GBI and FBI are still investigating the case. The charges against Greeson each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison under the law and a fine of up to $250,000.
“The Georgia Bureau of Investigation aggressively investigates alleged criminal activity by law enforcement officers,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan wrote in a statement. “The State of Georgia will not tolerate criminal activity by those officials with the duty to enforce its laws.”
“You’d have to work here”
Greeson wouldn’t elaborate on what he was afraid Henderson would do if he ignored his order — whether it meant losing his job or other kinds of reprisal. He became emotional and started to cry when asked the question.
“You’d have to work there. Really, it’s hard to ...” he trailed off and began explaining how he was always told just to keep on Henderson’s good side.
Asked why he didn’t notify then-sheriff Howard Ensley about what Henderson allegedly said, Greeson said he didn’t feel it would do any good because then-chief deputy Ray Sitton “handled everything down there,” and Sitton and Henderson are cousins.
“He was his cousin and that just made it, if you go in there and talk to the chief deputy, I’ve heard it before, ‘I’ve got a stack of applications this high. If you don’t like where you’re working at, you know.’ I’ve seen it. Over there you couldn’t really do nothing.”
Sitton didn’t immediately return a phone call on Wednesday. He retired after more than 20 years with the department before newly elected Sheriff Gary Langford took office Jan. 1. Langford said he told Sitton shortly after beating Ensley in the November 2012 election that he wanted to bring in his own chief deputy.
Deputy likely headed for trial
Greeson said he wasn’t scheduled to work the day of Garmley’s arrest. He was asked to come in to cover for another deputy who couldn’t work that day and was glad to do it, glad for the overtime to help pay down some of his bills, he said.
Fear initially governed his actions, Greeson said, but he felt so bad about lying that he went back to the GBI on his own and told them the truth. Ensley fired him soon after that, saying he was let go because of lying during an investigation, and he said he fired Henderson for the same reason.
Greeson said he also deleted some cellphone images of the drugs but that investigators already had those photos and he deleted them not because of a cover-up but because he routinely deletes things to make space on the device.
Jasper attorney Ed Marger, who is representing Greeson, said he has offered to help the U.S. Attorney’s office any way he or his client can, and he believes the case will go to trial.
Greeson is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 23.
“We have great faith in the jury system of the United States,” Marger said.
McCracken Poston said he hopes Greeson and any others implicated in the matter get a fairer shake from the justice system than his client initially received.