Since joining the small number of female violent crime investigators in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office three years ago, Ashley Pletcher has seen her fair share of
As one of the two investigators who keep up with gang activity, she has seen a rise in violence and expansion of gangs in Augusta. And as one of the investigators who actively works as many cold cases as she can, she has seen the desperation of family members who seek closure.
“I was always going to be a cop,” Pletcher said. “I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else.”
Pletcher grew up around Richmond County police, she said, because her father was friends with them. She also married one, Cpl. Michael Pletcher, a traffic deputy on the night shift.
Initially, Pletcher wanted to work for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, but after a few months policing a low-crime area, she put in an application in Augusta.
In 2010, she was one of the investigators on the Corey Smith case. Smith was sentenced to life in prison without parole in March for the rape and slaying of Patricia Burley, a 54-year-old woman with Down syndrome.
Pletcher worked another woman’s beating in which Smith is indicted. That woman, a schizophrenic now undergoing treatment in Statesboro, Ga., was sodomized, beaten with a brick and slashed to the bone with a rusty razor. Smith’s DNA was collected from her body at the hospital. The judge took the rape evidence in that case into consideration in sentencing Smith.
“When (Smith) was convicted, that was a high point for me,” Pletcher said.
Before she became an investigator, Pletcher was a road deputy. She said she would take pictures of gang graffiti around town.
“It was always interesting to me,” she said. “I had no idea what it meant, but I would make sure to document it and hand it off to people that did.”
Augusta has what Pletcher calls “hybrid gangs” – neighborhood gangs affiliating themselves with national gangs. Though Folk Nation has been in Augusta for decades, members are now starting to call themselves Crips.
Pletcher has taken a few FBI gang courses. She also learns new and old graffiti symbols, which help her identify each neighborhood’s gang.
She said she foresees the influx of outlaw motorcycle gangs as the next phase in Augusta. There is a branch of Hells Angels in North Augusta and another in Hephzibah, which she thinks could potentially grow.
When Pletcher is not working on current cases, she investigates cold cases. In early June, she and the crime scene unit made an arrest in a homicide from 1986. Jimmy Lee Riley was charged with murder in the death of 87-year-old Pauline McCoy at her Hyde Park home.
“If I could work only cold cases I would be happy,” she said.
When Pletcher was a child, a friend said her mother had been killed and no one knew who did it. That story stuck with her.
“The look on McCoy’s grandson’s face when I told him we made an arrest was exactly why I do this,” she said.