August 24, 2012

DA dismisses charges against Murray judge accuser

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— The district attorney’s office has dismissed charges against a woman whose attorney has claimed she was “set up” after sparking an ethics investigation into a Murray County judge, who has since resigned.

Angela Garmley was charged Aug. 14 by the Murray County Sheriff’s Office with possession of methamphetamine after an officer discovered a magnetized metal can he said was full of the drug underneath her car during a traffic stop. Jason Anthony Southern, who was driving Garmley home in her own car at the time, was also charged with possession of meth, driving with a suspended license and failure to dim headlights.

Weeks before the arrest, Garmley had publicly accused now former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran of soliciting her for sexual favors. The charge prompted the Judicial Qualifications Commission, a state watchdog agency, to investigate and eventually turn its findings over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is still investigating.

District Attorney Bert Poston asked the GBI to look into the circumstances surrounding the arrest — and Cochran’s own admission he had pre-signed warrants — after Garmley said a man who worked in a trailer park Cochran owns was in her yard hours before the arrest with no apparent explanation. According to the incident report from the sheriff’s office, she told the arresting officer the meth was not hers. She was given a $2,500 bond and released from jail.

Cochran resigned his post of eight years on Aug. 15. He did not admit to wrongdoing with Garmley.

Poston said Thursday evening he had decided to dismiss the charges against Garmley and Southern “due to information developed by the GBI investigation.”

Sheriff Howard Ensley said he had not heard about the charges being dismissed.

“The GBI does have the investigation on, and of course we’re cooperating with that,” Ensley said. “They are the ones doing the investigation, not my office.”

Poston said he couldn’t discuss details, including what information led him to dismiss the charges, because the investigation is ongoing. Asked whether any other charges were imminent, he said he couldn’t comment.

“Any other decisions will be made further along in the investigation or once the investigation is complete,” Poston said.

Ensley declined to say whether he had concerns about the arrest, saying he was “just waiting to hear back” on the GBI investigation.

Garmley’s attorney, McCracken Poston — no relation to the district attorney — didn’t immediately return a message Tuesday evening. He said earlier he was certain the GBI would take the investigation “very seriously.”

Bert Poston said he asked the GBI to take information from the JQC’s investigation and also look into allegations that Cochran pre-signed warrants. The circuit’s four Superior Court judges are set to appoint someone to fill Cochran’s spot after a Sept. 7 deadline to submit applications.