By SUSAN TEBBEN
Glasgow Daily Times
The chief of police was subpoenaed to Barren County Circuit Court on Monday to show cause as to why some officers were not showing up to testify in court cases. Because of the missing officers, some individuals facing court dates and potential jail sentences had to be released due to lack of evidence.
Chief Guy Turcotte appeared at a 1 p.m. hearing in front of Judge Phil Patton after being subpoenaed to court by Commonwealth’s Attorney Karen Davis.
“We have had problems with officers not being compliant, officers who have not appeared,” Davis told the court.
She had spoken to Turcotte numerous times in the last two to three weeks, Davis said, and has not seen a change in the attendance.
The hearing was requested by Davis after officers Casey Meek and Brandon Fletcher did not attend hearings to present evidence on charges for two cases Monday morning.
Ryan Dale Shirley was released to go to treatment but his pretrial diversion was not revoked based on a new arrest for tampering with physical evidence because Meek was not there to present the case, Davis said. Anthony Scott Marrs was also released on Monday after Fletcher did not appear to testify on a receiving stolen property charge.
Fletcher and Meek both appeared at the afternoon hearing. Meek said he had not been able to come because of “child care issues,” according to Davis, and Fletcher told the court he had not received the subpoena so he was not aware he was to be in court.
Subpoenas are hand-delivered to the police department, a policy that has been in place for many years, Davis said.
“The chief has said he has tried to address it, but I can’t do my job with this going on,” Davis said. “I know they want to be accountable to the public on this.”
Turcotte apologized to the court for any inconvenience and said the problems had just been brought to his attention recently.
But according to Davis and emails between Davis and Turcotte, the topic has been brought up on multiple occasions.
“If this was just one time it would be one thing,” Davis said.
In an email to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office sent June 20, Turcotte was reminded of three officers that were required in court for hearings.
On July 23, Michael Bruton, in jail awaiting a bond revocation for new charges alleged by Sgt. Jessie Barton, was released from jail when Barton did not show up for court that day. When Davis’ office called to ask where Barton was, they were told he was on vacation, according to reports from the commonwealth.
Turcotte was notified about the absence by telephone on July 23, according to email correspondence between him and Davis. He asked Davis to email him names of officers that had missed Grand Jury (though Davis said they were actually circuit court appearances) and the cases.
Davis sent an email back on July 30, in which she said Barton did not appear and in another case, Officer Scott Harmon did not appear.
On Aug. 8, Davis again emailed Turcotte to check on the case Barton was working when he failed to appear or “prepare his reports,” Davis’ email stated. Turcotte responded the same day.
“If Sgt. Barton received a subpoena for the case in question he should have been there for court or if he knew that he would have been on vacation [at] the time of that subpoena he should have contacted your office,” Turcotte’s email stated. He told Davis he would address the issue on Aug. 13.
Turcotte told the court on Monday that he had addressed the issue within the department.
“I have had a meeting with my command staff and the problem has been addressed,” Turcotte said.
Patton told Turcotte and the officers that they can testify over the phone if they can not appear in court, something Davis said she had no objection to in most cases, but she still wanted to emphasize that notice is needed.
“At 10:30 [a.m. Monday] we were looking for officers who were subpoenaed,” Davis said. “Now we’ve got folks out in the community that I believe and would have argued are … a danger to the public that have been released.”
Turcotte stressed in court that the issue had been addressed and that he had “found several errors from the past” that have been corrected. He said part of the new system requires officers to sign for subpoenas when they are received and oversight by Detective Jimmy Pedigo.
Davis said although there were some instances in the past – before Turcotte was chief – when officers have failed to show up, she felt the problem had increased recently.
She said other instances of officers not appearing have happened in grand jury as well, as far back as February.
In March, Lt. Col. David Graves, officially a member of Turcotte’s command staff, failed to fulfill a subpoena for grand jury in place of Officer Sidney Bailey, who was not available. Bailey also had not appeared in February on the same case, so the case was moved to a later date.
Three other cases of officers not appearing in court were cited by Davis in February and May.
Meek said he was only a transport officer in the case for which he was subpoenaed and Fletcher maintained that he could not appear to court for something he didn’t know about.
“I don’t appreciate being embarrassed by [Davis] in there when I did not receive a subpoena to come to court,” Fletcher said after the hearing.
Davis said she was embarrassed “a multitude of times” when officers did not show up for court to present evidence on which her cases depended and said the problem should be addressed from the top.
“If my staff wasn’t there for something and there was an issue, people would be looking at me as the head of the department to fix the problem,” Davis said.
Patton told the officers to give the commonwealth more notice about conflicts in schedules or problems with appearing.
“Hopefully it won’t happen again,” Patton said in court.