Columbia County fires code officer

A Columbia County code compliance officer accused of entering a Martinez home without permission was fired Monday.

Columbia County sheriff’s investigators completed an investigation Friday into a July 2 incident in which Erica Masters claimed that Jimmy Vowell came into her home uninvited.

The investigation didn’t result in criminal charges against Vowell because the sheriff’s office investigators found no criminal intent, Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said.

County Development Services Division Director Richard Harmon and the county human resources director reviewed the investigation findings and opted to terminate Vowell.

“It was a violation of policy as it relates to entering a house without permission,” Johnson said, “and making a false statement to a supervisor.”

Vowell initially denied entering Masters’ home, where he was serving a violation notice for having overgrown grass. He claimed he smelled something coming from the house and called out several times, according to a Facebook message Vowell sent to The Columbia County News-Times Publisher Barry Paschal a few days after the incident. When he knocked, Vowell said the front door swung open.

Masters woke to Vowell talking from her bedroom doorway. Vowell asked Masters to come outside to sign the notice and waited in her living room as she dressed.

Masters said she called 911. But when the dispatcher learned that the man inside her home was a county employee, the dispatcher transferred her to Vowell’s supervisor and didn’t send a deputy to her home.

She left a message with the supervisor and the sheriff’s office contacted her for a statement. Masters also provided footage of the incident from surveillance video cameras inside and outside her home.

Vowell was on administrative leave during the investigation.

County policy says that a home is never to be entered without permission unless there are extenuating circumstances, Johnson said.

Masters has said she plans to seek civil action and move from the county as a result of the incident.

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