Originally created 08/29/98

Former deputy acquitted on charge of lying



A former Columbia County deputy, fired last year after being charged with a misdemeanor by McDuffie County authorities, was acquitted of the offense in court this week.

Michael Brett Miller, 30, of Harlem, and a female deputy, Coleen S. Mekara, 29, of Martinez were charged with making a false statement to police in connection with a Feb. 2, 1997, report made to Thomson police about the theft of two pistols.

Police said the report falsely claimed the two pistols were stolen from Ms. Mekara's vehicle while parked in the Thomson Wal-Mart parking lot, but the guns were actually stolen in South Carolina.

After the two were indicted on the charge in June 1997, they were dismissed from the Columbia County sheriff's force.

Ms. Mekara pleaded guilty to the charge in October, and was sentenced to three years' probation.

But in a trial before Superior Court Judge E. Purnell Davis on Thursday, Mr. Miller was found not guilty.

Despite the acquittal, Sheriff Clay Whittle said Friday he did not act prematurely in firing the deputy, since he was already on disciplinary probation.

"There was sufficient evidence to show that he did do it, which is all that we need. We are not a court of law," Sheriff Whittle said. "Just because he is found not guilty in a court of law does not change our findings here."

Mr. Miller declined to comment after the trial, citing that his wife Tammy M. Miller was still a Columbia County sheriff's employee.

In May, Mrs. Miller was awarded $20,000 damages after a federal jury found her claims of sexual discrimination against the sheriff's office to be valid.

Mr. Miller, who claimed sheriff's officers retaliated against him after his wife's compliant, was removed as a plaintiff in the case after a federal judge ruled his claims were not supported by enough evidence to send to a jury.