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Code Compliance officer's accuser will be on 'Today' show

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7:00 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 6:57 PM
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 A Martinez woman who says a Columbia County Code Compliance officer entered her home without permission is gaining national attention.

Erica Masters, who captured Jimmy Vowell on surveillance video as he walked through her front door July 2 while she slept, will explain what happened on NBC’s Today on Wednesday morning.

The story has appeared worldwide via numerous online news sites. After Vowell was fired Monday, Masters said she got calls from Today, Inside Edition and Good Morning America.

“I am surprised,” Masters said. “I never expected it to get this far. … I know media outlets love government corruption. I didn’t think this was one of those cases necessarily. This is teeny, tiny Columbia County and now the whole country knows about us.”

A Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigation revealed no criminal intent, so Vowell wasn’t charged, Capt. Steve Morris said. District Attorney Ashley Wright concluded that there were no grounds for criminal charges, he said.

Vowell was fired because he violated county policy when he entered a home without permission and for lying to his supervisor, County Administrator Scott Johnson said Monday.

Vowell at first denied entering Masters’ home, where he was serving her with a notice for having overgrown grass, but he later admitted going inside after learning about the video.

Masters said she installed the four-camera surveillance system before being medically discharged from the Army for depression. She has been struggling to make ends meet as a model, dancer and actress while waiting for her disability to be approved. The cameras, she said, provided protection against potentially unsavory people who she could be around on the modeling jobs.

“Once (people) see the video, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘She just wants publicity,’” Masters said.

She said she woke just before noon July 2 to Vowell talking to her from her bedroom doorway. Vowell asked Masters to come outside and waited in her living room as she dressed.

He claimed he walked into the home only after calling out several times, and smelling a foul odor coming from the front door that swung open when he knocked, according to a Facebook message Vowell sent to The Columbia County News-Times Publisher Barry Paschal a few days after the incident.

“I had no idea who lived there or even if anyone did,” Vowell wrote in the message. “I had no idea if someone was hurt, dead or what. … From what I saw and (smelled), I reacted on instincts telling me something was not right in that house.”

The video shows Vowell knocking on the front door, moving around to a side door, then returning to the front door. The door appears to open when Vowell knocks, and he grabs the handle and closes the door and continues to knock. The video does not include audio.

Afterward, Masters tried to reach Vowell’s supervisor, then called 911. The dispatcher passed Masters’ contact information along to a Code Compliance supervisor, who contacted her.

Masters didn’t sound distressed while talking to the dispatcher, sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.

Masters said she intends to seek civil action against the county because she believes the 911 dispatcher should have sent a deputy to her home. She also contends the county didn’t properly check Vowell’s background before hiring him.

Vowell, a former Rich­mond County sheriff’s sergeant, resigned in 2004 after he admitted taking a laptop computer that was scheduled to be destroyed from the evidence room, according to an article in The Augusta Chronicle.

“This is a Columbia County reaction,” Masters said. “I don’t think it ever should have gotten to that point. I don’t think they should have had to react to something negative like this.

“Having a theft record, then making house calls just isn’t a good combination in my opinion. I don’t think he should have been hired in the first place.”

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 (69)

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saltine
281
Points
saltine 07/10/12 - 08:33 pm
9
1

Next time ,be

Next time ,be prepared,""Choot-um"

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/10/12 - 08:42 pm
7
6

Her Facebook profile has

Her Facebook profile has photos of her dressed like a Tiger. Her vanity plate reads "Tygrress." She is depressed but drives a red convertible? Something probably did smell foul in her home if she was too depressed to cut her grass. Something doesn't smell right...Bet we get embarrassed tomorrow on Today.

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/10/12 - 08:45 pm
5
4

And her last name is

And her last name is Masters...great!

Karen Slater-McDaniel
3095
Points
Karen Slater-McDaniel 07/10/12 - 09:00 pm
12
5

Anddddd locallawyer? What is

Anddddd locallawyer? What is illegal about any photo or what kind of car she drives or her vanity plate? Yes it is so like people to judge a VICTIM.

Omg did she have on a mini skirt & dance provocatively? She asked for it! (Think the movie "The Accused".

Her GRASS needed to be cut! He LIED to his supervisor until she produced evidence (video tape). How hard is this to comprehend?

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/10/12 - 09:09 pm
5
9

Victim? Seriously? Suing

Victim? Seriously? Suing Columbia County? Good luck with that.

Karen Slater-McDaniel
3095
Points
Karen Slater-McDaniel 07/10/12 - 09:39 pm
8
4

And please as an attorney

And please as an attorney explain to me WHY she would not have a case?

The dispatcher did not send an officer but offered to contact code enforcement and have them call her back. That is mistake #1.

One of their code enforcement officers entered a house without authority to do so and then LIED about doing so. That is mistake #2.

Upon waking up and asking the victim to meet him outside he did not exit the home but stayed in her living room. That is mistake #3.

And beforehand he knocked on her door, went back to his vehicle and wrote the citation, came back and knocked on her door the second time. You mean to tell me that the door did not open (like he claimed) the first time he knocked and them he smelled something but instead of calling for assistance he went back to his vehicle and took the time to write a citation and THEN the second time he went to he door he SMELLED something that caused him to think she was in danger?

Uhm ... I think NOT!

The county is responsible for the employee that they hire. There is no difference between that and when and officer fires upon a suspect and kills them and the family then sues the county for killing their loved one. And no difference in being hit by a company vehicle and getting killed and your family suing the company for your death.

HighSociety
1840
Points
HighSociety 07/10/12 - 09:46 pm
5
7

Maybe this will help her

Maybe this will help her modeling career take off. Or maybe an actor. Enjoy your 5 minutes of fame. Maybe she can trade out with the County. You know free lawn service for a year. This is not news.

Jake
30337
Points
Jake 07/10/12 - 10:03 pm
8
5

Vowell is foul

Judging from the video and Vowell's physique, I would say he was looking for a refrigerator or a microwave and happened into the wrong room.

Georgialina
7441
Points
Georgialina 07/10/12 - 10:50 pm
7
2

Vowell is a lucky man

Jimmy Vowell is lucky he entered her house and not mine. Had he been stupid enough to come into my home I would have shot his lying thieving azz then and there. He was fired from RCSO for theft, now he commits another crime of breaking and entering (I believe Ashley Wright got that one wrong) because the video plainly shows him turning the knob. He went in because he smelled something??? I call BS. The only thing that smells here is giving this criminal a pass by only firing him.

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/10/12 - 11:12 pm
3
8

Karen: Suing a government is

Karen:

Suing a government is a lot harder than suing a private business, especially for intentional acts of employees compared to negligence. Wikipedia "sovereign immunity" and you will see what I mean. There are a lot of hurdles and notice requirements in Georgia. And it is also incorrect to say an employer is responsible for all of its employee's actions.

She may have a claim for trespass against the guy, but I doubt a Columbia County jury would award her enough $ for a lawyer to actually take the case. Actual damages have to be shown, and the article says she didn't sound distressed at all on her 911 call.

My point is I feel she is stretching this a bit, and I sue people for a living. Also, what if the Code Officer had discovered her passed out from a gas leak and saved her life? Would you be so outraged?

Look, there is no audio on the tape, so we don't know who to believe, and the DA and Whittle found no criminal wrong doing. I didn't mean to judge her (although most people dressed up as cats on their FB profile deserve it), but her career as an actress, model, and dancer in Augusta, Ga, while waiting on her disability to come through for depression is a little bit suspicious to me, but what do I know? Maybe she was in "Cats" On Broadway before moving to Martinez and that's why she is depressed.
-LL

Truthbetold74
108
Points
Truthbetold74 07/11/12 - 12:28 am
3
0

LocalLawyer

Unpublished

Not arguing with you, since you do it for a living I will take it you know what you’re talking about but I do have a question.

Would a civil suit against the county be dependent on if they have every given any type of training, direction, or policy against such actions and if there were any complainants previously? The article doesn’t address either of those issues.

itsanotherday1
34652
Points
itsanotherday1 07/11/12 - 12:55 am
7
4

Didn't they say that the

Didn't they say that the video shows that the door swung open on the first knock?

"the video shows Vowell knocking on the front door, moving around to a side door, then returning to the front door. The door appears to open when Vowell knocks, "

OK, assuming he was looking for loot; why did he: "She said she woke just before noon July 2 to Vowell talking to her from her bedroom doorway." ? I would think he would have eased back out without waking her if he had nefarious intent, OR would have attacked her in her sleep if sex was his intent.

No case here beyond him violating policy. Use your noodles.

If i'm on the jury, this opportunist gets zip.

Just My Opinion
4658
Points
Just My Opinion 07/11/12 - 05:10 am
9
2

Some of you folks are just

Some of you folks are just wrong. If you think the girl is looking for her 15 minutes of fame, don't you think she would've came out of the room looking better than she did?? And her being "depressed" has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything here...nothing. Vowell came in to the house when he wasn't supposed to, and he lied about it. He lied. He lied. There's her "case"....and she got it on video. I don't think she's out for any money anyway. Oh, and one more thing....he lied.
LocalLawyer, I wish you'd print your name because I think I'd want to stay clear of your services. The way Karen handled you, I think I'd hire her if I wanted to sue someone!

seenitB4
72625
Points
seenitB4 07/11/12 - 05:45 am
5
3

Karen :)

Yep Karen would make a good lawyer....never too late to think of that career...ksm.....maybe soon you can practice some....

wribbs
329
Points
wribbs 07/11/12 - 06:51 am
6
0

One of the most shocking

One of the most shocking things in this story to me is that the government of Columbia county has a guy that will write you a ticket for your grass being too high.

boodroe
1558
Points
boodroe 07/11/12 - 07:38 am
4
0

Richmond County has code enforcement officers too

Richmond County also has code enforcers who will write a ticket for grass being to and junk cars in the yard most counties do as jungle like grass is health hazzard

Little Lamb
40138
Points
Little Lamb 07/11/12 - 07:48 am
4
1

Health?

Neighbors don't call Code Enforcement to complain about the height of their neighbor's grass because of health. No, it's aesthetics, pure and simple.

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/11/12 - 08:26 am
3
0

Truth: A lawyer could

Truth:
A lawyer could certainly use prior training, employer manuals, and prior complaints of that particular employee to strengthen the case, but the hurdles I was referring to are more procedural issues. So you are on the right track, but the ability to sue the County would not necessarily be dependent upon those types of issues.

lifelongresident
1311
Points
lifelongresident 07/11/12 - 08:29 am
0
0

looking for a little payout

Unpublished

looking for a little payout that's what it seems like, she threatens to sue, hires a lawyer, he then files the paperwork meanwhile she hits the talk show circuit to show how scared, upset, and violated she is hence the county offers her a few dollars to make this go away and she is set until her "disability?!?!?!?" kicks in..on by the way a "model, dancer, and actress huh" being she lives in columbia county don't see where there is a lot of calls for actresses except for the la chat noir, augusta isn't broadway, nor have i seen her in any local advertising (print, tv, or radio), seems to me her "model, dance, and actress is a cover for her real profession at the lower end of broad street (showgirls, marine room...etc).

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 07/11/12 - 08:34 am
4
3

disability?

Unpublished

Obviously Vowell was totally out of line serving a citation to the woman in her bedroom (wish we had those in Richmond County).

But this is the line that got my attention:

"She has been struggling to make ends meet as a model, dancer and actress while waiting for her disability to be approved. "

Sounds like the woman can work and probably should, being cooped up on disability will only make her MORE depressed.

augusta citizen
7624
Points
augusta citizen 07/11/12 - 08:41 am
5
1

Gone viral

This story definitely "went viral"! I googled and it was even reported by a paper in the UK. All of the articles mentioned the stolen laptop and one reported that while he was still a LEO with Richmond County, he loaned his badge to his brother and it had something to do with a bar brawl. I had not read that anywhere else.

I think he needs to be charged with breaking and entering and hope bringing charges will be reconsidered.

David Parker
7919
Points
David Parker 07/11/12 - 08:50 am
3
2

you can get disability for

you can get disability for being glum? What the....!?!?

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 07/11/12 - 08:54 am
4
1

Video

It does appear that after ringing the doorbell that he knocked and it seems the door did come open and he pulled it back closed then rang the doorbell again. Then the second time he went on in, who knows if he smelled something or not but I agree with itsanotherday, that if he was going in to steal try and steal something once he saw her sleeping he would have slipped back out the door. What he should have done if he thought something was not right was to call out for someone and if no answer call 911 himself. Is this worth a civil suit, not to me but I am sure she is being advised to do so.

grinder48
1357
Points
grinder48 07/11/12 - 08:56 am
0
0

Unbelievably Brask & Stupid!

Unpublished

Whether or not Masters is seeking publicity, yard is not well kept, whatever she does for a living, etc. is irrelevant. I don't know Vowell but I can tell you that had I been asleep in my house and awaked to see this big ol' shaved head tattoed galoot in civilian clothes walking through my house, it would have scared the bejesus out of me! And I'd have started firing my 45 and - especially because he's so big - I'd have emptied all 13 rounds into him. What he did was horribly stupid and way out of line! Plus it's obvious that, once caught, he lied about what happened! These are the kinds of people we have working in code enforcement?

grinder48
1357
Points
grinder48 07/11/12 - 08:59 am
0
0

Uniforms?

Unpublished

Not that it would have make it OK for Vowell to go walking in the house but I'm just curious, why aren't CC Code Emforcement officers in uniform? Vowell looked so unprofessional ...

itsanotherday1
34652
Points
itsanotherday1 07/11/12 - 09:18 am
3
4

All I see is a guy who is not

All I see is a guy who is not very bright, and a person looking for a payday for this guy's inability to make rational decisions.

Little Lamb
40138
Points
Little Lamb 07/11/12 - 09:20 am
5
1

Ticket

I wonder what happened to the citation that Vowell wrote up?

TParty
6003
Points
TParty 07/11/12 - 09:32 am
4
1

First of all- very boring

First of all- very boring video.

Secondly- I don't understand why someone would install cameras, and not have a dog, or lock their doors, or something. Maybe she was in the house and felt no need to lock their door, I don't know.

Thirdly- I'll stop counting. The dispatcher asked her if she wants a deputy to come over, so I don't see how she can complain if one did not come over. She should have said yes then.

Lastly- this guy should be fired, and an investigation should be done on how this guy got this job with his background. I don't see how she can get a pay day for this- unless the guy on the video called his boss for instructions and was told to walk in there and get her....

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 07/11/12 - 09:34 am
3
2

And I thought that...

"Today" was a news program.

JRC2024
6955
Points
JRC2024 07/11/12 - 09:40 am
4
1

What a nasty yard. From what

What a nasty yard.
From what I saw he made a call, knocked on all doors, the door was open and he may have just thought something was wrong. His mistake was not telling the truth. I bet officers will now just walk away if something seems wrong unless there was a 911 call from the home. No money for her.

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