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Erica Masters suing Columbia County, code officer who entered her home

Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 5:16 PM
Last updated 6:58 PM
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A woman has filed a lawsuit against Columbia County and the former Code Compliance officer who admitted entering her Martinez home without permission.

Erica Masters, who now lives in the Atlanta area, filed the civil suit Tuesday afternoon in Columbia County State Court seeking $300,000 plus court costs for physical and emotional distress she suffered when Jimmy Vowell entered her unlocked home July 2.

Masters is seeking a jury trial.

“It is unfortunate that the county, who has no culpability or liability in my opinion, gets hit from two sides and the taxpayers have to defend both,” said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson in response to the suit’s filing.

Vowell, who was fired shortly after the incident, was at Masters’ home to deliver a violation notice from a neighbor’s complaint that her yard was unkempt and overgrown. He claimed at the time that he entered the home only after knocking repeatedly and calling out, and that he smelled something from inside when the unlocked door swung open.

Masters’ home had a surveillance system, and a video of the incident showed Vowell walking through the home and standing in her bedroom doorway. She said she awakened to find Vowell talking to her from the hall, and that he retreated to her living room and waited there while she dressed.

After Vowell delivered the county ordinance violation notice, he left the home and Masters tried to call Vowell’s supervisor with Code Compliance but was unable to reach anyone. She then called 911 and, when she told the dispatcher she was uncertain whether she needed Vowell’s supervisor or a deputy, the dispatcher took her information for Code Enforcement to contact her.

Johnson suspended Vowell and then contacted the sheriff’s office. An investigator interviewed Masters and Vowell and reviewed the surveillance footage. Vowell was not charged because, officials said, there was no criminal intent in his entry of the home.

However, because the entry was a violation of department policy, Vowell was fired.

Vowell since has appealed his termination to the county’s Civil Service board, which determined the firing was “too excessive.” He is appealing to county commissioners for reinstatement, Johnson said.

TRANSCRIPT OF ERICA MASTERS’ 911 CALL

Dispatcher: “Columbia County 911, what is your emergency?”

Masters: “First I had a question, but most likely I’m going to have to get a report made for this. Do the county code enforcement officers have the same right as a law enforcement officer to enter a property if they think someone’s safety is at risk?”

Dispatcher: “I’m not exactly sure, I believe so, I’m not sure. What exactly is going on?”

Masters: “I just had one of the county code enforcement officers show up at my house, basically to tell me that my grass is too high, which I know, because my lawnmower is broken.”

Dispatcher: “Mm-hmm.”

Masters: “Apparently he knocked on my door. He says that the door opened itself.”

Dispatcher: “Mm-hmm.”

Masters: “But I’ve got him on camera, and it looks more like he actually, like, tried the door handle and found that it was unlocked, and then he actually walked completely into my house, into my bedroom…”

Dispatcher: “Oh, OK.”

Masters: “…and actually wakes me up, just to tell me that I need to sign this notice telling me my grass is too high.”

Dispatcher: “OK. Hold on one moment; let me transfer you to a non-emergency line, OK?”

After a few technical difficulties transferring the call, the conversation resumes:

Dispatcher: “So, did you actually want to speak to someone over code enforcement to see? Or did you actually just want a deputy to come out there so you can do a report?”

Masters: “Um…”

Dispatcher: “It probably could be handled through their office. I’m not sure how you want to do it, go ahead.”

Masters: “I tried to call someone with code enforcement, like the manager’s office or whatever, and he’s not answering right now.”

Dispatcher requests Masters’ contact information. Then:

Dispatcher: “What I’ll do is I’ll see who I can get in contact with, and have someone call you back.”

Masters: “OK. Thank you.”

Dispatcher: “Bye.”

Comments (24) Add comment
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faithson
5158
Points
faithson 11/06/12 - 06:41 pm
5
5
300 grand

maybe she will keep her yard up with the money ???? although I really hope he gets a slap on the wrist and she gets no monetary settlement. County will settle for 25 grand i bet

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 11/06/12 - 07:18 pm
6
3
Given the fact that he
Unpublished

Given the fact that he violated policy, he should be the only one being sued. Unfortunately, the taxpayers pockets are deeper.

LillyfromtheMills
13309
Points
LillyfromtheMills 11/06/12 - 07:35 pm
4
4
$25 to clean up her area

I would be afraid if someone walked in my house on me, but if I was dead, I'd like for my family to know. He made a judgement call and it was just the wrong one - but isn't that his duty as a civil servant - to make sure she was ok?

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 08:32 pm
4
4
I hope she doesn't get one

I hope she doesn't get one thin dime!

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 08:34 pm
4
4
Agree

With all the previous posts.

gargoyle
17206
Points
gargoyle 11/06/12 - 10:08 pm
2
2
Bad deal

Poor decisions abound by all including the dispatcher. Hopefully she gets bad legal advice or the county will have to write a big check

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 10:21 pm
2
2
I am reminded of the most

I am reminded of the most famous quote of WW2. It is a one word quote, 4 letters.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 11/06/12 - 10:23 pm
0
3
snafu??
Unpublished

snafu??

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 10:30 pm
0
4
Are you asking me about

Are you asking me about "snafu?" That is 5 letters.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 11/06/12 - 10:31 pm
1
3
snaf?
Unpublished

snaf?

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 11:02 pm
2
3
Who has security cameras and

Who has security cameras and goes to sleep with her front door unlocked and partially opened.

I do love pecans, and walnuts. Pistachios.

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 10:59 pm
2
3
Google the Battle of the

Google the Battle of the Bulge." Heck, just Google most famous quote of WW2. I did and again I found it within a second.

Sean won't let me say it.

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/06/12 - 11:37 pm
2
3
I am glad for her former

I am glad for her former neighbors that she has moved.

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 11/07/12 - 06:55 am
6
0
Vowell said:

He claimed at the time that he entered the home only after knocking repeatedly and calling out, and that he smelled something from inside when the unlocked door swung open.

If he really thought something was wrong, why didn't he call 911? That is what I would have done. What did he think he was going to do if something was going on in her house?

I can't believe this man actually walked in her house and walked all through her house to her bedroom. That is just creepy. He is actually lucky he did not get shot or killed.

I love the way neighsbors don't even bother to help folks out these days. Her lawn mower is broken, they report her and try to get her in trouble. In the old days, people would have cut her grass to help her till she could get it fixed. Probably never occured to them to do that.

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 08:27 am
7
1
If anyone can walk in every

If anyone can walk in every unlocked home encountered without legal repercussions, the Constitution means nothing.

dstewartsr
20389
Points
dstewartsr 11/07/12 - 09:45 am
4
0
The 911 call

... IF it hasn't been "enhanced" still shows the operator clearly trying to steer MS Masters from having a deputy respond. There is more to this than is being reported. If any/all the dismissive posters would kindly send me a copy of the filing with what special insight they have, perhaps I should be more persuaded.

As a CC taxpayer I'd be glad to know just how MS Masters is in the wrong. This, in my home, would have been a homicide investigation, not a civil suit.

easy breezy
14
Points
easy breezy 11/07/12 - 10:11 am
1
6
Dumb

I hope she doesn't get one red cent!! She left her door open and didn't even appear to be shocked on the video. This whole story is just fishy. The man lost his job by doing what he thought was right. Let it go and let this guy live his life.

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 03:33 pm
4
2
"Fishy"?

I'm curious too about some feeling the story is "fishy." What in the world do you mean? Even a deputy would not have gone in that house to serve a warrant or something without a court order. He would have known better. Vowell has a shady history with the RCSO as most know. Why was he forced to resign?

For clarification, she left her door unlocked...not open.

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/07/12 - 10:59 am
2
3
Video cameras all over. Who

Video cameras all over. Who would take those steps and not make certain her front door was locked before going to bed?

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 11:09 am
5
0
KSL, do you think this was a

KSL, do you think this was a set-up of some kind? I really don't get it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it said she had a room mate who had left that morning and had not relocked the door?

RogueKnight
210
Points
RogueKnight 11/07/12 - 11:15 am
1
5
She doesn't deserve...

$300K for what happened. Does she deserve an apology? Sure. But she is digging for gold. I still believe Vowell entered with good intent. He's a former RCSO deputy. But suing for $300K? :rolleyes:

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 03:45 pm
4
0
Easy Breezy, okay, let's look

Easy Breezy, okay, let's look at both of those issues. Why was he fired from the RCSO? Now, let's say she knew him, that means he can open her door and walk in on her sleeping without her permission? He never claimed he knew her, nor did she say she knew him. Is he saying that now? Matter of fact, he said he never entered the house when his supervisors asked. See none of THAT makes sense to me

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 11:33 am
4
0
Easy Breezy, I think THAT

Easy Breezy, I think THAT remark is uncalled for. Hey, I wouldn't give her 300 grand either, but she will get something. Honestly, tell me something I don't know and I'll listen. But the facts seem pretty clear to me. He went in a house that didn't belong to him and lied about it. All this other stuff is insinuation and attacks on her character which in no way affect the facts of the matter.

GaStang22
910
Points
GaStang22 11/07/12 - 01:26 pm
0
1
Loafer with her hand out.
Unpublished

She deserves nothing from the taxpayers. She should sue him then get counseling and some morals.

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 03:41 pm
3
0
The Facts

From the Article:
“It is unfortunate that the county, who has no culpability or liability in my opinion, gets hit from two sides and the taxpayers have to defend both,” said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson in response to the suit’s filing."

I’d countersue anyone who appears to be improperly bringing a suit.

“Johnson suspended Vowell and then contacted the sheriff’s office. An investigator interviewed Masters and Vowell and reviewed the surveillance footage. Vowell was not charged because, officials said, there was no criminal intent in his entry of the home.”

How in the world did the officials determine this? Are they psychic? A crystal ball? A camera system catches someone entering a house, but when a woman awakes, confronting him, he says he’s only there because her grass is too long. Have we lost all common sense? A jury should have determined his intent.

“However, because the entry was a violation of department policy, Vowell was fired.”

Not only did he enter the house in violation of department regulations, he told his supervisor he hadn’t entered the house until he learned about the video.

“Vowell since has appealed his termination to the county’s Civil Service board, which determined the firing was “too excessive.” He is appealing to county commissioners for reinstatement, Johnson said.”

What is he appealing? He didn’t enter the house? He didn’t lie to his supervisor? Who makes up this Civil Service Board? They ruled his firing was “too excessive” bad grammar and all?

Someone puuuuulllllleaaassssseeee tell me what I’m missing?

Riverman1
84130
Points
Riverman1 11/07/12 - 03:55 pm
2
0
Deleted Posts

Just so everyone knows some posts were deleted that I was responding to. I'm not blaming the moderator, but it makes my comments look out of sequence in some cases.

Iknowjack
22
Points
Iknowjack 11/07/12 - 04:40 pm
2
2
TRUTH HURTS

Why is it that the moderator of this so called comment site feels it necessary to delete certain comments which contain the truth, and they continue to allow these criminal investigators to post while on county time? I wish the so called moderator would contact me with a phone number so I could discuss the rules of engagement......

Iknowjack
22
Points
Iknowjack 11/08/12 - 10:37 pm
2
0
Riverman1

has no idea what he is talking about. He does not know the facts surrounding many of his comments. Because of his connection(s) in law enforcement he feels as if he has the inside scoop. What he fails to realize is that his "scoop" is more like a door knob, as everyone has had a turn.

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/08/12 - 11:34 pm
1
0
Why

Why doesn't she sue the roommate for leaving the house unlocked while she was supposedly sleeping?The answer is the roommate doesn't have deep pockets like the CC taxpayers have.

Riverman???

No, someone should not walk into your house, but a lot has to do with motives. I have had a neghbor who feels free to do that for years and I don't mind.

7 They had had previous problems with her. Glad for Cola County that she is no more than a law suit problem anymore.

KSL
130010
Points
KSL 11/08/12 - 11:41 pm
1
0
Sorry for the Atlanta area

Guess she thinks her modeling career will take off.

I don't think so, unless the expectations are not for nationwide exposure. Hope she has real world backup from the military, or local take your money quickly agencies.

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