By John Cole Vodicka
“Your honor, it was all a misunderstanding. I love John. We’ve been together 30 years. We can live together peaceably.” The woman spoke these words in Magistrate Court this past Wednesday morning. Her husband, John T., was appearing remotely from the jail at his first appearance bond hearing. He’d been jailed 24 hours before, charged with one count of criminal trespassing/interference with property.
Two hours earlier on Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m., I’d received an email from a friend of mine. He told me he was a neighbor of Mr. T. and his wife and asked me to attend the bond hearing.
“Please check on John T.,” the friend’s email read. “He threw his wife’s shoes in the trash and refused to get them out of the trash. Wife called police. They arrested him for domestic violence and trespassing. I witnessed the ordeal. It has no validity.
Courtwatcher Kate Glennon and I were present in court on Wednesday, starting at 8:30 a.m. Mr. T.’s case was the first to be called.
At the hearing, Mr. T.’s wife admitted to overreacting to her husband’s tossing a pair of her shoes into a trash pile. “Really,” she deadpanned, to the judge, “I probably do have too many shoes.”
Magistrate Judge Benjamin Makin said that if the couple could remain “peaceful” in their relationship going forward, he would agree to release the 72-year-old from jail with the understanding that Mr. T. have only “non-violent” contact with his wife.
However, because Georgia law now prohibits any judge from setting a no-cash bond when family violence is alleged, Judge Makin was forced to attach some amount of money to Mr. T.’s bond. He set the bond at $10. Mr. T.’s wife thanked the judge and left the courtroom. I followed her out into the hallway.
I informed the woman that in addition to the $10 good security bond, she’d likely have to pay the Clarke County Sheriff an additional $13 fee to gain her husband’s freedom. She groaned. “I’m gonna have some trouble scrapin’ it up, but I’ll find the money.”
I handed her $25, cash money I carry with me from Oconee Street United Methodist Church’s community bail fund. “Please call me if you have trouble bonding Mr. T. out,” I told her. She hurriedly left the courthouse.
Later that evening, while checking the jail roster, I found that bond had been posted and Mr. T. was out of jail.
The next morning, I received another email from the neighbor: “Thank you very much. I talked to them last night and (Mr. T.) is back home. It was just a little misunderstanding.”
My God. What is wrong with our community when the police can feel justified in putting an elderly Black man in jail for two days for something so petty?
Mr. T. is scheduled to be arraigned on the criminal trespass charge in State Court on September 9.
James I. is a little younger that John T. Mr. I. is a 64-year-old African American.
On July 20, Mr. I was arrested and barred from all University of Georgia property by campus police.
One week later, on July 27, he was arrested and jailed again for criminal trespassing. This time he was caught riding on a UGA bus.
At his virtual first appearance bond hearing on Wednesday morning, July 28, Magistrate Judge Benjamin Makin told Mr. I. that “being barred from UGA property” meant he could not ride on the campus bus line. “The campus buses are the property of the University of Georgia,” the judge explained.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. I said from the jail booth. “I’ve been in Athens for two weeks and I’m homeless.” Indeed, Mr. I. gave his mailing address as 240 North Ave. That’s the Homeless Day Shelter.
Mr. I.’s “criminal history” shows that these two misdemeanor “trespassing” arrests have been his only encounters with law enforcement in Athens Clarke County.
Now, the “bus riding” Mr. I. will join the alleged “shoe-tosser” John T. at an arraignment hearing in State Court on September 9.
As of Monday night:
388 women and men were confined in the Clarke County jail.
282 of this total were African American.
There were also 16 Latinx behind bars.
52 women were locked away in our jail.
76-year-old Lawrence B. was the oldest person in custody. Mr. B. has been locked up for three weeks. Also in custody was one 67-year-old; two 66-year-olds; one 65-year-old; two 63-year-olds two 61-year-olds and one person age 60.
All told, 57 people 50 years old and older were in confinement.
There were five 18-year-olds and ten 17-year-olds in jail. A 15-year-old, Marquise M., was incarcerated in the Rockdale (near Conyers) kiddie prison, charged as an adult with murder.
Over the last seven days local law enforcement arrested and booked 114 people into the jail, 78 of whom were BIPOC. The oldest person arrested last week was 82-year-old Richard L., for shoplifting. The youngest were two 17-year-olds.
John Cole Vodicka is a member of Oconee Street UMC and is one of the leaders of the Courtwatch program.