A Richmond County Superior Court jury on Thursday acquitted a Hephzibah man of obstruction of an officer and rejected what could have been a compromise verdict of misdemeanor obstruction.
Fredrick Gibbons repeatedly rejected the prosecutor’s offer of a suspended sentence for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor and insisted on a trial. What happened to him when Georgia Regents University police officers arrested him has happened to others, he said, and it was time for someone to bring it to the public’s attention.
“It may not change a lot, but awareness is a first step,” said Gibbons, a small businessman.
He risked spending five years behind bars if the jury hadn’t seen the facts his way. The jury deliberated about two hours Thursday before acquitting him.
For most of three days, the jury heard from a series of GRU officers, including Wesley Martin, the reported victim of the felony obstruction charge.
Martin testified that on March 1, 2012, he stopped Gibbons on Wrightsboro Road because there was no tag on his vehicle. Martin made the statement at least twice during his testimony, only to take it back when defense attorney Victor Hawk played the recording of an exchange between Martin and his dispatcher just before the traffic stop.
On the recording, Martin says he was stopping a vehicle with a paper tag. The dispatcher repeated the statement to ensure he heard correctly, and Martin affirmed it.
Martin said he repeatedly asked Gibbons to hang up his phone after approaching the vehicle and that he shocked Gibbons with a stun gun. Martin told the jury that Gibbons rolled up his window, trapping Martin’s hand and causing him to shock himself.
Gibbons said Martin charged up to his vehicle, yelling for him to the open the door, and immediately began shocking him, rendering him unable to control his limbs.
The incident was caught on the stun gun’s recording device and the Richmond County sheriff’s dispatch recording. Gibbons had called dispatch as soon as he saw who it was who pulled him over.
Eighteen months earlier, Gibbons had filed an internal affairs complaint against Martin and other officers involved in arresting him on a charge of driving an unregistered vehicle. That charge was thrown out because Gibbons’ vehicle was legally registered and it is legal to drive with a paper tag.
Hawk said he would like for the trial to spur the community into requesting an investigation into the GRU police department.
Hawk said Thursday that Martin has used a stun gun 24 times in his 2½ years at GRU.
Gibbons was shocked at least five times during the traffic stop.
William E. McBride Jr., the director of the Public Safety Division and chief of police at Georgia Regents University, said through a spokesman that the officer’s training records and the results of an internal investigation have been turned over to the district attorney’s office.
“As far as he’s concerned, the matter is closed,” said the spokeswoman, Jennifer Scott.