April 13, 2013

Former Murray sheriff’s deputy pleads guilty to false statements

Rachel Brown

— ROME — A second former Murray County law enforcement officer has pleaded guilty to obstructing a civil rights investigation connected to a former Murray County judge.

Joshua Lamar Greeson, a former sheriff’s office deputy fired for lying during the investigation, entered a negotiated guilty plea in federal court here Friday afternoon to making false statements. His sentencing date is June 28 at 1:30 p.m.

At that time, the U.S. attorney’s office is expected to recommend dismissal of a second charge related to removing information from his cellphone. Greeson could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, probation for up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Greeson’s supervisor, fired sheriff’s office captain Michael Henderson, pleaded guilty to obstruction a few weeks ago. He’s scheduled for sentencing on May 31 at 1:30 p.m. and faces up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Greeson initially pleaded not guilty, admitting he lied but saying he did so only because Henderson ordered him to. Then he and defense attorney Ed Marger learned they wouldn’t be able to successfully use that as a defense.

“Nothing has changed as to what happened,” Marger said. “In this case, the fact that he listened to his supervisor was not a defense.”

During the hearing before Judge Harold Murphy, Greeson, Marger and U.S. attorneys prosecuting Greeson agreed evidence exists to show former Murray County chief magistrate Bryant Cochran told “several police officers” including Greeson to be on the lookout for Angela Garmley’s vehicle because it was believed to be carrying drugs. Garmley had recently accused Cochran of sexually soliciting her in exchange for a favorable ruling on a case — a charge Cochran has denied. Her arrest came a day before Cochran resigned for an unrelated ethics reason.

Greeson has said he stopped the vehicle Garmley was riding in and arrested her and driver Jason Southern after finding a magnetized container of meth under the vehicle. The local district attorney’s office dismissed their charges only a few days later after investigators said someone planted the meth. Accusations surfaced that Cochran had ordered Henderson, who is his cousin, to make the arrest. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) opened an inquiry into what happened.

Greeson said he lied to a judge and to GBI investigators at first because Henderson told him to, maintaining he didn’t know anything about the vehicle before that night. Then he went back a few days later and admitted Henderson had told him to watch for it, he said. Then-sheriff Howard Ensley fired Henderson and Greeson for lying.

Page Pate, Cochran’s attorney, said it’s true that Cochran called Greeson and other law enforcement officers about Garmley having drugs, but it wasn’t because of any conspiracy to discredit her after the sexual allegations as her attorney has suggested.

“Mr. Cochran has never denied telling Josh Greeson as well as captain Henderson that he had information that he considered to be reliable that Mrs. Garmley was involved in the drug trade and may very well be carrying drugs in the vehicle,” Pate said. “It’s a big leap to go from saying that to saying he made a false arrest.”

Judge called officer’s cellphone

Greeson talked openly following his January arraignment about lying only because Henderson ordered him to do so — an accusation Henderson’s attorney has denied.

After Friday’s plea bargain in which he agreed to work with U.S. attorneys in the ongoing investigation, Greeson declined to comment. Greeson’s plea agreement stipulates the U.S. Attorney’s Office won’t press further charges against him if he admits to any other crimes during the cooperation, as long as they aren’t violent.

Marger said Greeson doesn’t remember getting a call from Cochran, but he knows evidence shows he did.

“We do know that a call was made from the judge’s cellphone to his cellphone,” Marger said. “We don’t know what that conversation was about ... he didn’t even remember the call.”

Pate said Cochran does remember the call, and it was about an issue completely unrelated to Garmley. During the call, Pate said, Cochran in passing mentioned to Greeson the information he had about Garmley doing drugs. Pate said he doesn’t think Cochran gave Greeson a description of the vehicle at the time.

“He never instructed them to arrest her, to pull her over, and he certainly had nothing to do with planting any drugs on her,” Pate said.

McCracken Poston, an attorney for Garmley and Southern, said it is “vindicating to see your allegations given the stamp of acceptance and approval in the federal court,” but he questions whether Greeson is being honest in saying he can’t remember Cochran’s call.

“He (Cochran) was in the news every day for three weeks leading up to this, and you don’t remember a call from this person?” Poston said.

Cochran has denied Garmley’s accusation about sexual solicitation, which lead to a series of events that prompted the Judicial Qualifications Commission to open an ethics investigation. The results weren’t made public because Cochran resigned over pre-signing a handful of warrants before the investigation was complete.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying Greeson’s sentence will depend on several variables specified in sentencing guidelines created by a federal commission. His plea agreement indicates prosecutors will recommend a lenient sentence if he continues to cooperate. The investigation is ongoing.

“Such conduct as described in this case cannot be tolerated, and the FBI will continue to identify, investigate and bring forward for prosecution those officers who betray the public’s trust,” Mark F. Giuliano, special agent in charge at the FBI Atlanta Field Office, said in the press release.

GBI Director Vernon M. Keenan echoed those sentiments.

“Those who are entrusted with upholding and enforcing the law must have honesty and integrity,” he said. “The GBI will continue to work with our federal law enforcement counterparts to ensure those in a position of trust are held accountable.”