About 20 people arrested for the alleged buying and selling of Masters Tournament practice round tickets are on the Tuesday calendar for Richmond County Magistrate Court.
Just how many will show up to answer for the disorderly conduct charge is anybody’s guess. Some defendants would have to travel from as far away as California or Canada.
Sarah Schmackle said it will be almost impossible for her and her husband to drive in from Smyrna, Tenn. She had her hopes raised when Solicitor Harry James had talked about dropping charges in all the cases, only to have them dashed when he changed his mind.
“I really don’t know what to do,” said Schmackle, who said she was disappointed and confused by the whole situation.
Schmackle said that they had come to Augusta in April after receiving practice round tickets through the lottery. Their group, five adults and four children, arrived at Gate 6 of Augusta National Golf Club with the mistaken notion that children could enter without a ticket.
After they were turned away, Schmackle volunteered to take the children back to her father’s home in Aiken while the others enjoyed the day at the Masters.
“I was going to take the kids back and let them swim,” Schmackle said.
She said someone overheard their conversation and asked if they had an extra ticket. Schmackle had just agreed to sell it when undercover deputies pounced, handcuffing her and her husband, she said.
Schmackle’s 72-year-old father, Peter Stephenson, said he was confused by what was happening and placed his hand on the arm of one of the men holding his daughter.
“I just wanted to explain to them what was happening,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson also was placed in handcuffs and taken to jail.
“I didn’t know he was a police officer,” said Stephenson, adding that he intends to explain everything in court to Chief Magistrate Judge William D. Jennings III.
Stephenson and anyone else who comes to court will have several options. They can choose to plead no contest or plead not guilty and request a bench trial. Either way they will have to see what Jennings will decide. Another option is to ask for a jury trial in State Court.
That’s what Augusta attorney Chris Corley said he will to do for his clients.
“I plan on being in court long enough to enter a not guilty plea, sign the paper and walk out,” he said.
Solicitor General Charles Evans said customarily the State Court doesn’t grant jury trial requests for city ordinance charges, but in these cases he will take a look at the facts before deciding what should be done. Either way, Corley said he doesn’t see how people can be charged with disorderly conduct in most of these cases, because the city ordinance requires that in order to be charged someone must be engaged in unlawful activity.
He said from his research most of those arrested were accused of either scalping or soliciting scalping. He said in order to charge someone with soliciting, there has to be a felony involved.
“You have to be encouraging someone to commit a felony,” he said.
Violating the state scalping law is a misdemeanor, so that doesn’t apply, Corley said.
Also, the state scalping only directly prohibits selling tickets within 2,700 feet of an event, not buying.
“The buyer is not addressed in the scalping law,” he said.
This was the reason given by Solicitor General Charles Evans, when authorities recently dropped scalping charges against Edward Testa, an Ohio man who was arrested with numerous tickets and a large amount of money outside the gates of the Augusta National.
Evans said because Testa was trying to purchase, not sell tickets that the state statute didn’t seem to apply.
So, if it isn’t unlawful to ask for a ticket or to purchase one, then there is no unlawful activity to support a disorderly conduct charge, Corley said.
“You got to provide for what the unlawful act is,” he said.
As for selling, that seems to be a violation of the state law, but James has already dropped charges against a Florida man who admitted to doing just that. Sheriff Ronnie Strength also requested that charges be dropped against an Iowa man who was arrested for asking for tickets.
Aubrey Harwell said he figures that if authorities have already dropped charges against two other people, he doesn’t see why he can’t get similar treatment. He will drive in from Atlanta to see if he can avoid paying a fine for buying two tickets for $20 in front of a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy on April 3.
“I guess I’ll plead dumb and see what happens,” Harwell said.