Lost files force coastal Georgia county to drop prosecutions

Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 8:46 AM
Last updated 10:06 AM
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DARIEN, Ga. - A coastal Georgia district attorney is dismissing felony charges against more than 100 defendants in McIntosh County because investigative files are missing or have been mishandled.

Each of the files contained a letter that explained no documentation had been located to support the prosecution of the defendants, said Chief Deputy William Jennings of the Sheriff's Office.

In some cases, the supporting files had been found but could not be used because they had been removed from the Sheriff's Office, Jennings said.

"Unfortunately, these case files were copies ... ,'' he said. Such a removal violates the chain of custody, contaminates the records and makes them unusable in court, Jennings said.

All but a handful of the dismissed cases originated with the office of former Sheriff Charles "Chunk" Jones. Two of Jones' deputies were arrested in February on charges of theft by taking and violating their oaths of office.

Arrest warrants accuse both of removing original criminal case files from the Sheriff's Office and failing to return them.

Dennis Merriman, a lieutenant under Jones, and Chad Strickland were released on their own recognizance. The case against them is pending, Jennings said.

"These are crimes ranging from drug cases to aggravated assault to child molestation - the whole gamut of crimes,'' Jennings said.

"One was a federal case in which officers found weapons and explosives during a search,'' Jennings said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office had to dismiss it.''

The problem arose shortly after Sheriff Steve Jessup first took office Jan. 1 when Atlantic Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden presented Jessup with a list of cases from previous years for which he had no supporting documentation, Jennings said. Since then, Sheriff's Office staff has dug through every possible file and managed to "salvage'' only a few cases, Jennings said.

Jennings acknowledged that some cases made by Jessup's office had been dismissed but said all were legitimate dismissals. In one, four occupants of a vehicle had been charged with drug possession, Jennings said. After one of the vehicle's occupants acknowledged all the marijuana in the car was his, charges against the others were dismissed, Jennings said.

Thursday morning, McIntosh County Clerk of Court Saundra Goodrich was going through court records, pulling the criminal files of each and inserting the dismissals.

Goodrich said she had 115 of the letters, and Jennings said there could be more.

Jessup said he regrets that the cases are getting dismissed, but that his office had done all it could to find the records.

"It's not my call,'' he said.

Jennings said the victims are getting hit twice.

"They're victims of the original crime, and now they're victimized because the criminals aren't getting prosecuted,'' he said.

terry.dickson@jacksonville.com, (912) 264-0405

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wise
1
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wise 12/18/09 - 08:55 am
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This Make no sense. Its 2009

This Make no sense. Its 2009 shouldn't everything be scanned and placed on a computer. The paper files should just be for back up.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 12/18/09 - 09:13 am
0
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This was a very common

This was a very common "trick" in the past, but because of modern record keeping capabilities is seldom seen anymore. In more rural communities and departments, it's still a good trick. I wonder which case was the target. The vast majority of the "ruined" cases were just cover fodder. Nothing to see folks, move along.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 12/18/09 - 09:15 am
0
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Remember when congress

Remember when congress requested a document from President B.J. Clinton and received 200,000 of them? The system always works.

alsway
0
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alsway 12/18/09 - 09:29 am
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My question is why they took

My question is why they took so long to bring the cases to court in the first place. Sounds like this may be a wide spread problem with our judges not doing their duties (Augusta included)and letting these cases linger. If the appropriate pressure by the judges to move these cases through the system as they are supposed to, maybe most if not all would not have fallen through the cracks.

themaninthemirror
0
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themaninthemirror 12/18/09 - 09:41 am
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Wise- The article

Wise- The article states:"Unfortunately, these case files were copies ... ,. They have to have the original documentation to prosecute the case. So using your method, they would still wind up with nothing more than a copy. Obviously you did not understand what you were reading.

Riverman1
94300
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Riverman1 12/18/09 - 10:12 am
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Didn't Det. Roundtree of the

Didn't Det. Roundtree of the RCSO remove files that were later found in an apartment he had vacated? Files and a GUN. Why this man continues to work for RCSO should be examined. When he was taking the hooker in jail on a murder charge out of jail on Sundays was anyone else involved? Answering that question may answer my question.

Just Another Day
0
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Just Another Day 12/18/09 - 11:08 am
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Roundtree DOES NOT work for

Roundtree DOES NOT work for RCSO anymore...That's a fact

Riverman1
94300
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Riverman1 12/18/09 - 11:30 am
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JustAnotherDay, you are

JustAnotherDay, you are right. He is RCBOE Safety Office Director. But he was hired after all this happened. He must have been given an excellent recommendation by the RCSO to have gotten the job. But, again, you are right. I stand corrected. The RCBOE does not report to the RCSO.

Just Another Day
0
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Just Another Day 12/18/09 - 11:44 am
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Correct. thank you

Correct. thank you

gargoyle
21126
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gargoyle 12/18/09 - 12:04 pm
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I wonder ... Can he sign hall

I wonder ... Can he sign hall passes ? He can't be trusted around crimals but children, No problem .... LOL

Riverman1
94300
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Riverman1 12/18/09 - 12:29 pm
0
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Roundtree being given a good

Roundtree being given a good recommendation by the RCSO and being hired by the RCBOE after he had done the same thing this article is about plus more shows that both departments are dysfunctional. Remember when the Chronicle busted Roundtree for the phony comments? All this was known before the RCBOE hired him. I'm telling you he knows where the bodies are buried....i.e. Who else was involved with the jailed hooker he was getting out on weekends.

Builder Man
0
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Builder Man 12/18/09 - 02:51 pm
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I used to teach school in

I used to teach school in McIntosh County. The people there are the most behind the times inbreeding, corrupt people in all of Georgia. When I lived in that part of the state, the McIntosh County Sheriff was the biggest drug dealer in the county.

Just Another Day
0
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Just Another Day 12/18/09 - 03:01 pm
0
0
What years are you talking

What years are you talking about Biulder Man? 90's?

justus4
113
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justus4 12/18/09 - 04:01 pm
0
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The number of minority
Unpublished

The number of minority citizens who get this unbelieveable break is probably in single digits, if that. Look at the casual approach to felonies which indicates no minority involvement. How can a single law enforcement person keep their jobs in light of such complete and abject failures? Easy. They all look alike and the good ol' boy system is working overtime. What a disgrace! However, there is Shenandoh, Pa where the entire sheriff department is now in jail for obstruction of justice. They thought no one was looking either - they learned differently. This coastal town requires a vist by U know who.

Builder Man
0
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Builder Man 12/18/09 - 07:34 pm
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Late 80's & early 90's

Late 80's & early 90's

corgimom
38759
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corgimom 12/18/09 - 07:44 pm
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Please God, let justnuts go

Please God, let justnuts go to that coastal town to investigate. Please.

DEVGRU
0
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DEVGRU 12/18/09 - 09:06 pm
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Who is "you know who",

Who is "you know who", Justus? Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?

DEVGRU
0
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DEVGRU 12/18/09 - 09:07 pm
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Wait. I know who it is

Wait. I know who it is Justus. It has got to be Chiquita Johnson.

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