published Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Murray County sheriff's deputy fired after allegations about Bryant Cochran, GBI probe

Former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran and Angela Garmley. Garmley's accusations against Cochran initiated a state investigation that led to the judge's resignation.
Former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran and Angela Garmley. Garmley's accusations against Cochran initiated a state investigation that led to the judge's resignation.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Georgia watchdog agency for judges is re-examining how it investigates wayward judges and how it protects witnesses in light of allegations coming out of Murray County.

One Murray County sheriff's deputy has been fired and his supervisor is on paid leave after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation examined whether the officers planted drugs on the car of a woman who accused a county judge of soliciting her for sex.

Angie Garmley's complaint against Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran sparked a state Judicial Qualification Commission investigation and led to Cochran's resignation. Her complaint also revealed that Cochran was illegally presigning warrants for officers to use.

Cochran has denied that he solicited Garmley but admitted to presigning warrants.

Prosecutors dropped the drug charges against Garmley last week.

On Wednesday, Deputy Josh Greeson, the arresting officer, was fired based on evidence that he lied to the GBI when agents were investigating Garmley's arrest, said Murray County Sheriff Howard Ensley.

Sheriff's Capt. Michael Henderson is on paid leave, and Ensley said he won't decide whether Henderson will be fired until Friday.

The sheriff said he hasn't been told that anyone else at the sheriff's office was involved, and he wouldn't say what Greeson lied about to the GBI.

"We're concerned greatly and it's a saddening situation that this has come about," he said.

Judicial Qualification Commission officials said the allegations and the entire investigation are alarming.

The GBI investigation showed Garmley was targeted because she was cooperating with the Judicial Qualification Commission, said commission Director Jeff Davis. Such an act is unheard of at this level, he said.

"It sends a chilling message to the public," he said. "It could discourage legitimate complaints from being filed from fear of retribution."

Commission Chairman John Allen said state authorities are also going to re-examine the resignation agreements they work out with judges. During an investigation, the commission often tries to get a wayward judge to resign by agreeing not to disclose the information gathered against him or her to law enforcement, Allen said. However, the commission will turn the information over to the GBI or FBI if there is an ongoing criminal investigation, he said.

"This will give us pause for working out agreements with judges in the future," he said.

On Aug. 15, Cochran was allowed to resign from his position after he agreed with the commission that he would never seek a judicial office again.

The day before his resignation, Garmley was arrested after Greeson said he found meth inside a magnetic box underneath her car.

Henderson was also on the scene after Greeson requested backup, said Henderson's attorney Larry Stagg. He was on the scene because Garmley's husband, who wasn't in the car, was violent, Stagg said.

GBI Agent in Charge Jerry Scott said he couldn't discuss the case in detail but said authorities felt the evidence needed to be given to the sheriff to take quick action against the officers.

The sheriff's office has been helpful with the investigation and authorities believe Greeson and Henderson were the only two involved from the office, he said.

"We have no information that there is widespread corruption within the Murray County Sheriff's Office," Scott said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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