published Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Murray County law officer pleads to charges

  • photo
    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 frame job didn't originate with former Murray County, Ga., sheriff's Capt. Michael Henderson.

Yet Henderson pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Rome for his part in setting up the arrest of a woman who complained about sexual advances made by a local judge.

Henderson pleaded guilty to obstructing a civil rights investigation by tampering with a witness and could face federal prison. But he points the finger at someone else for Angela Garmley's setup last summer.

Garmley filed an ethics complaint against Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran last July, saying he had asked her in his chambers to be his mistress and later sent her a text message that said to come to his office "wearing a dress and no panties."

Her complaint sparked a state Judicial Qualification Commission investigation, which also revealed that Cochran was illegally presigning warrants for officers to use. He resigned Aug. 15.

The day before Cochran's resignation, Garmley was pulled over in a traffic stop where police found a metal can containing methamphetamine hidden in the wheel well of her car. She was charged with possession of meth.

Shortly after Garmley's arrest, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation received information that the drug had been planted, U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said in a news release. That's when the drug charge against Garmley was dismissed.

Sheriff's deputy Joshua Greeson and Henderson, Cochran's cousin, were fired for lying to the GBI and this year were federally charged with obstruction.

Now both former officers blame each other for the set-up, claiming they didn't know the real reason Garmley was pulled over.

Cochran, who is still under federal investigation, hasn't been arrested, and his attorney said the order for the traffic stop didn't come from him.

"I can tell you, Bryant Cochran never instructed anyone to pull anyone else over," said attorney Page Pate. "He had no knowledge of any drugs being planted."

The federal prosecutors and state agents won't say who they believe planted the drugs or where they are with Cochran's investigation.

But Henderson's attorney, Larry Stagg, said Wednesday the tip that Garmley's car had drugs inside came from the former judge and that Henderson wasn't the only person from the sheriff's office whom Cochran called.

Cochran told Henderson in a telephone conversation that he knew about a white Dodge carrying illegal drugs, Stagg said. But Cochran didn't tell Henderson the drugs were a set-up, the lawyer said.

Greeson said in January after his indictment that Henderson had given him a call and told him to pull Garmley over. The 25-year-old ex-deputy also said Henderson later told him to lie to GBI agents.

Yates said in the news release that Henderson then lied to the GBI when he denied that he had passed along the order to pull Garmley over.

"Mr. Henderson violated both the law and the public's trust when he lied to his fellow law enforcement officers and obstructed a civil rights investigation," Yates said in a prepared statement. "Bottom line, the citizens of Murray County at minimum deserve police officers who obey the laws."

Greeson faces a trial in April. And Henderson is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31 and could face up to 20 years in prison.

But Henderson's attorney said that his charges could be lessened depending on multiple factors, including whether he testifies as a witness in an upcoming trial.

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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