Floyd County Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach allowed the District Attorney's office to drop indictments in a racketeering case against a group of people accused of defrauding the Floyd County school system of over $6 million.
While the current indictment has been dropped the DA's office is allowed a six-month grace period to re-indict the defendants.
"We intend to re-indict (the case) before October," Assistant District Attorney Luke Martin told the court.
In the hearing Monday morning, several attorneys for the defendants argued the judge should quash the two similar indictments, filed within days of each other. The state argued they should be allowed to drop the indictments and then re-indict the defendants.
If Niedrach would have quashed the indictments, it would have exhausted the state's two chances to indict and the case couldn't have gone forward.
"It appears this was an oversight by the state and not done with any malintent," Niedrach told the court, continuing to state the indictment appeared to follow a prosecutorial standard. He then ruled the district attorney could drop both previous indictments and move forward with re-indicting the case.
Attorneys for several of the defendants brought up the issue with the indictments in earlier motions. They said one of the factors that must be in the indictment is the establishment of the jurisdiction of the court.
The first indictment lacked the phrase establishing the court's jurisdiction in the matter but also had "T" instead of "true" denoting a true bill from the grand jury. The second was corrected but still lacked the establishment of venue, according to motions filed in the case.
For example, attorneys filed to have the indictment dismissed in November 2018 stating "the indictment contains a specific fatal flaw in that it fails to allege venue as proper in Floyd County." In April 2019, the state responded and acknowledged they "should take the opportunity to re-indict the case."
"We're pleased with the judge's ruling and feel like it supported Assistant District Attorney Luke Martin's argument on behalf of the state," Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson said. She continued saying they will re-indict the defendants on all of the charges.
This leads into a second point which was to be addressed in motion hearings scheduled this week — whether or not the statute of limitations expired on many of the charges involved in the case.
According to court documents, several of the defendants are stating the time period has passed in which many, if not all, of the charges can be prosecuted. The state is claiming they're still within the statute of limitations and are able to prosecute. For most of the charges there is a four year statute of limitations, for RICO violations the deadline is five years.
While the topic was brought up at the hearing, no ruling was made.
History and probable appeal
According to the now dismissed indictment and information presented in court, Derry Richardson is accused of using his position as maintenance director in the school system to steal millions of dollars from the school system and included family, friends and co-workers in the ongoing scheme.
Conspirators reportedly created inflated, and in some cases completely fraudulent, invoices for both construction and maintenance projects.
Multiple people have been charged with RICO violations and other charges in the case.
Along with Derry Richardson, his wife Lisa Richardson, his father Jimmy Richardson and brother Dwayne Richardson are all charged in the plot.
Those also listed in the indictment are Russell David Burkhalter, Samuel Max Tucker, Harry Anthony Bailey, Robert Chad Watson, Charles Raiden Sherman, David Gary English and Rodney Don Holder.
Among the technicalities discussed in the hearing also concerns the status of two men who were arrested after the previous indictment was approved by the grand jury. Sam Sprewell and James David Fielder both turned themselves in at the jail and were released on bond.
Niedrach brought up the point of whether or not they had to be re-arrested and make bond again since the indictment — the document in which they are charged — has been dismissed. The question, at least during the hearing, appeared to go unanswered.
The next step is whether or not attorneys for the defendants will appeal the judge's decision. They have 10 days to notify the court whether or not they will appeal the issue.
However, Niedrach told prosecutors they should not wait on the resolution of any appeal before re-indicting the case.
Cameras that snap pictures and send tickets to speeders in a school zone will likely be installed in front of Rome High School before the end of the year.
There are still several actions necessary to set it up, but a presentation on RedSpeed USA's automated enforcement system drew support from board members at their Monday caucus.
"There's a consensus that we're going to be moving forward," Mayor Bill Collins said.
Greg Parks with RedSpeed said the Georgia General Assembly approved the cameras in 2018 but the Georgia Department of Transportation just recently adopted the rules governing their use.
"They're just going into effect now," he told the board.
Two dozen other cities, including Duluth and Lilburn, are in the process of enabling the systems. Parks first went before the city's public safety committee, which recommended the installation.
"We can't always be all places at all times," Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney said. "This is just another avenue to safeguard our children."
If the cameras are effective on Veterans Memorial Highway, she said plans are to install them next on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, to protect the Main Elementary School zone.
Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars and his director of safety and security Jason Self back the plan, said Commissioner Milton Slack, who chairs the public safety committee. Slack said the school board would also have to sign off.
Parks said a nine-hour test in front of Rome High turned up 274 motorists traveling at least 11 mph over the speed limit of 45 mph.
That's the minimum speed a motorist could receive a school-zone camera ticket under the state law. Citations would go to the owner of the vehicle.
Park said the law is "more conservative" than an older, challenged, statute that once allowed speed cameras at red lights around the city.
The cameras may be on only when school is in session and GDOT must approve the permits. Fines are set at $75, with no points charged against the license. There's also a license plate recognition component.
"An example would be for people who have temporary protective orders against them or registered sex offenders – people who shouldn't be near the school," Park said.
The system would be at no cost to taxpayers. RedSpeed would get 35% of the revenue from fines and Rome would get 65%, which must be used for public safety purposes.
City Attorney Andy Davis said the City Commission would have to adopt an ordinance allowing the use. A first reading could be as early as Aug. 26, with adoption in September.
Park said it would take about 90 days to get the GDOT permit and install the cameras. There would be signage and flashing lights where the technology is in use and a 30-day warning period where violators would just get a notice in the mail.
"This should be a surprise to no one," he said.
Model Elementary School was full of yellow and pink on Monday in support of a young student undergoing surgery.
Kaisley Miller, a 4-year-old Pre-K student at MES, underwent chemotherapy from 2017-2018 for alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue tumor related to the lining of skeletal muscles. Nine months after being declared cancer-free and in remission her doctors told her that her cancer had returned.
In a July interview, her mother Ashley Carroll, said this time around doctors would have to perform surgery on her daughter instead of chemo due to the high dosage Kaisley received during her first 43-week treatment.
"Last time when she had this, they told us it wasn't operable and she couldn't have a surgery to take it out. That's why she did the chemo and radiation," she said. "This time they told us her only way of really surviving or trying to beat the cancer would be to have it surgically removed, even though the surgery is very risky."
Another hesitation Carroll had with surgery was the timing. Kaisley was very eager to start school, her mom said. They decided to let her attend Pre-K from when school started until her surgery on Monday.
Even though she hasn't had Kaisley for a full school year, her teacher Tabitha Yarborough said she has formed a special bond with the student and has been happy to give her some extra love.
"She's a regular, energetic 4-year-old," Yarborough said. "You wouldn't even know she was sick unless someone told you."
Vice Principal Patrick Hopper echoed Yarborough, saying "she is a sweetheart."
Carroll posted personal Facebook status regarding Kaisley's surgery around 11:30 a.m. to say her daughter was still being operated on and she would receive an update later Monday afternoon.
Donations can be made to support Kaisley through the family's GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/kaisleys-medical-bills, on Facebook through the Sweet Kaisley's Cancer Back fundraising page, on PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by purchasing "Kaisley Strong" decals and T-shirts on the Kaisley's Journey Facebook page.
Cave Spring officials are hoping the third time's the charm for their application for a $100,000 trails grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The funding would be used to acquire property to link to the Silver Comet Trail, a 61.5-mile paved trail that runs between Smyrna and the Chief Ladiga Trail at the Alabama state line in Polk County.
"The Rome-Floyd Greenway Partnership's biggest priority is to connect Cave Spring with the Silver Comet Trail in Cedartown," City Council member Tom Lindsey said.
The partnership of more than 30 local leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors held its first meeting in June. Its goal is to promote the connectivity of Floyd County's trail system and rivers, to enhance quality of life and tourism.
Lindsey is asking the council to approve the grant application at the board's meeting tonight, set for 6 p.m. in City Hall, 10 Georgia Ave.
Council members appeared supportive at a work session last week but are likely to complete the discussion at their 5 p.m. caucus. Two issues sparked concerns: the required 30% local match and two previous rejections by the ARC.
Lindsey said they can only apply three times for the grant, but members of the partnership have promised to help with the application and lobby for its approval. The Pinhoti Trail Association also is supporting the move.
"We've got something behind us we've never had before ... We've got clout," Lindsey said.
Council member Joyce Mink asked for more details on where the city would get the $30,000 local match. Lindsey said it could be provided in the form of labor on the project.
Cave Spring has been working for several years on ways to connect Rolater Park south to a section of the Pinhoti Trail, as part of the link to the Silver Comet.
Rome and Floyd County officials have been encouraging, with an eye to extending their trails to the nexus. Polk County officials also have been working with Cave Spring on smaller projects.
A grant-funded study completed in 2015 identified several potential corridors.
Among the other items on the council's agenda tonight is the expected adoption of an ordinance regulating the use of golf carts on city street. A map to hand out with the $15 permits is not ready yet.
Mayor Dennis Shoaf noted that the restriction is essentially from driving on state highways except for in areas marked to cross over.
"I'm ready to adopt it," he said. "We have 30 days (to set up the process) after it's enacted."
Shoaf also wants a vote on closing city hall at 4:30 p.m. He said there's little activity in the half-hour before 5 p.m. The facility opens at 8 a.m.
Kaitlyn Montgomery, an 11th-grader at Coosa High School.