Former parole officers acquitted

Two former parole officers accused of abusing people and lying on official reports were acquitted of all charges Thursday.

Terrell Yelverton and Joshua Stephens waived their right to a jury trial in Richmond County Superior Court and put their case before Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. at a bench trial this week.

The pair were indicted in October on charges of false imprisonment and making false statements. Mr. Yelverton resigned and Mr. Stephens was fired by the Board of Pardons and Paroles after an internal investigation in early 2006.

The indictment concerned three incidents: the Nov. 9, 2004, pursuit of Troy Curry in the mistaken belief he was a parole violator; the former officers' reports concerning the March 3, 2005, arrest of Quinten Clark without a warrant; and a Dec. 2, 2005, encounter with Timothy Grant, who made an obscene hand gesture and cursed the parole officers.

The attorneys for the former parole officers made passionate statements about how dangerous parole officers' work can be. They must go into some of the worst neighborhoods and arrest people in circumstances when making a judgment call about keeping themselves and fellow officers safe must be made in an instant, attorney Pete Theodocion argued.

Mr. Yelverton lost a good career after 12 years, Mr. Theodocion said. He went back to school to earn a nursing degree, and all he wants is to start over, the attorney said.

Both he and Mr. Stephens' attorneys contended that the former officers' written accounts about the arrest of a man without a warrant might have been poor English but it wasn't fraudulent.

In finding Mr. Yelverton and Mr. Stephens not guilty of making false statements, Judge Blanchard said writing skill shouldn't be a criminal issue.

Mr. Yelverton's written statement concerning Mr. Clark's arrest reads: "(a) call was made to confirm there was a warrant then" they started chasing Mr. Clark, who fled when he saw the parole officers.

On Thursday Mr. Yelverton testified that he was intentionally vague with his wording because he knew it was not normal for a parole officer to arrest a parolee without a warrant.

Their former boss testified this week that it was more than unusual.

"In all my years we don't arrest people without warrants, and we don't arrest people who are not on parole," said Kathy Ruddy.

Mr. Yelverton and Mr. Stephens testified that they thought there was an outstanding warrant for Mr. Clark's arrest when they saw him on March 3, 2005. Both said there should have been a warrant because Mr. Yelverton had discovered that Mr. Clark was in violation of parole on Feb. 23 when he was covering for another parole officer.

Mr. Stephens testified that he didn't think they had to have a warrant because board policy allows them to make a warrantless arrest in an emergency. Mr. Clark's flight made it an emergency, he said.

In his statement Mr. Stephens wrote: "We called to request a warrant since the warrant had not been issued." Then he writes about the chase and subsequent arrest of Mr. Clark.

Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Schwartz argued in closing that the former parole officers weren't charged because they arrested Mr. Clark without a warrant; they were charged because they lied about it.

"Mr. Clark had it right (when he testified) The law should apply to all," she said.

Judge Blanchard's decisions thrilled the former officers and their supporters who filled several benches in the courtroom this week. The supporters included Mr. Stephens' father, the sheriff of Emanuel County; occasionally Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength; and other law enforcement officers who sat on the defense's side of the courtroom.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.