published Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Angela Garmley suing former Murray County, Ga., judge Bryant Cochran

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.

A federal lawsuit accuses a former Murray County, Ga., judge of concocting a scheme to plant drugs on the woman whose ethics complaint led to his resignation.

Angela Garmley's ethics complaint ended the careers of Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran and two sheriff's deputies. In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Rome, Ga., her attorneys point to Cochran as the one behind her false arrest.

"He was obviously the mastermind of planting the drugs and the arrest using two different groups of people," said McCracken Poston, one of Garmley's attorneys.

State investigators said Garmley was set up when Murray County sheriff's officers found a metal can filled with methamphetamine under her car. The arresting officers -- Capt. Michael Henderson and Deputy Josh Greeson -- were fired, and earlier this year hauled up on federal obstruction charges.

Cochran, who resigned in August and still is under federal investigation, has denied any part in Garmley's arrest.

Garmley filed the ethics complaint against Cochran in July, alleging the judge had asked her to be his mistress and solicited her for sex when she came to his office asking for warrants to be taken out on three people.

A day before Cochran resigned, Garmley was pulled over by Greeson and Henderson, who is the judge's cousin. She was arrested along with her husband, Joe, and Jason Southern, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation dropped charges after agents learned the drugs had been planted.

Now the Garmleys and Southern want Cochran, the officers and multiple county agencies to pay for conspiracy, negligence and abuse of power allegations and are asking for a jury to decide on a sum.

The lawsuit also names county government, the sheriff's office and former Sheriff Howard Ensley for negligence and not properly training their staffs.

The suit also accuses county officials of not changing their policies after a Murray County employee sued former Commissioner David Ridley for sexual harassment two years ago. The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

County officials declined Wednesday to comment on Garmley's lawsuit and said an attorney hasn't been assigned to represent the county.

Murray County Attorney Greg Kinnamon said after the Ridley lawsuit officials changed county policy so workers who felt like they couldn't go to their supervisors with complaints could go to the county attorney

County financial officer Tommy Parker said officials didn't summon employees to a meeting to talk with employees about the policy change and he couldn't remember how it was communicated to the staff.

Last week, former Magistrate Court employees Virginia Rector, Yesenia Galvan and Sonya Petty filed a similar lawsuit against Cochran and the county.

All worked for Cochran, and all allege they were sexually harassed and then intimidated to keep quiet. At the office, Rector alleged Cochran would close the door to the bathroom and rub her breasts and genital area.

They also allege the county neglected to protect them.

But Benton Mathis, who represents the county in that case, said the suit is retaliation after the women were told to resign.

"We intend to defend this case [in] that the women had ample opportunity to complain and they didn't do so," he said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

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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