Judge Denies Bulloch Commissioner’s Request for Good Behavior Warrant on Citizen

The legal action initiated by a Bulloch County Commissioner concluded Monday with a judge dismissing the commissioner’s request for a good behavior bond. 

The action was initiated after a February 6 county commission meeting in which citizen Lawton Sack contacted Commissioner Timmy Rushing about a matter discussed on the agenda. During the course of the conversation, it escalated into a more heated discussion that resulted in Sack contacting the Sheriff and Rushing filing a police report and application for a good behavior warrant against Sack. 

You can read more about the background here.

Rushing’s Application 

Rushing’s application for a good behavior warrant alleges that he [Rushing] was ‘shocked and felt intimidated by [Sack] coming behind the dais to speak.’ He goes on to outline what was said between the two and said he was ‘tired  of the constant harassment and negative comments he continues to present at Commission Meetings and on social media.’

“I advised him to step back away from me and if he didn’t understand, I would be happy to explain it another way.”

Rushing then cites comments made by other members of the public as reason for Sack to have a good behavior warrant. 

“In the recent past, there has been comments made by members of the public that we as commissioners need to be mindful of our decisions and might need to wear bullet proof vests when we’re out in public. These comments concern me as a commissioner and a person. The worry that I may either be hurt or have to defend myself has been a huge concern of mine recently. I respectfully request that Mr. Sack be issued a directive to not approach myself or other members of the commissioner.”

The statement is a sworn statement made under oath.

Monday’s Hearing

Screven County Magistrate Judge Jimmy Griner presided over the case Monday as Bulloch magistrate judges recused themselves from the matter prior to the hearing. Rushing was represented by Statesboro attorney George Rountree while Sack was represented by Savannah attorney Tom Withers. As witnesses for Rushing were Commissioners Roy Thompson and Toby Conner. Lisha Nevil was present as a witness for Sack along with more than a dozen people in support of him. 

Before the hearing officially began, Tom Withers objected to Rountree’s appearance representing Rushing, citing a rule about a private member of the bar not being permitted to act as a district attorney or present evidence in a quasi-criminal hearing. Griner said he would allow Rountree to continue, but Withers could appeal the matter if he so wished. 

Rushing Takes the Stand 

Rountree began by putting Rushing on the stand. Rushing testified about the standard protocols of commission meetings and Rountree went on to belabor the nuances of the appointment which was the point of discussion at the time of the incident. 

Rountree’s angle was that Sack should have spoken during the public portion of the comment hearing.

Sack, however, was not signed up to speak at the meeting, and therefore, could not speak as the deadline to sign up is one hour before the start of the meeting.

Rountree presented photos of the county commission meeting room, including the ramp location and where commissioners sit. Rushing began testifying that he has been concerned about his safety because ‘some other guy’ made a comment about how the commissioners should wear bulletproof vests in public. 

Withers objected to Rountree’s claims as irrelevant, saying Sack cannot be held accountable for things done by other people. Rountree said it goes to the state of mind of Rushing because there were overt threats, “not by Mr. Sack, but others.” Withers rebutted that Rountree discredited his own statement by acknowledging it had nothing to do with Sack. “This general spector of some kind of violence somewhere some time is an issue, your Honor.” Griner instructed Rushing to carry on without utilizing that information.

Rushing went on to testify that he said ‘he won’t be a commissioner no more.’ “Now, he might have taken that as a threat,” Rushing testified, but belabored that he did not threaten Sack.

Rushing wanted to explain why he filed the good behavior warrant. “As far as I was concerned, it was over with. Then I learned that he called the Sheriff directly.” 

Withers objected to Rushing’s hearsay account of how things unfolded since he did not experience them first hand and Griner halted the testimony.

Cross Examination of Rushing 

Withers began the cross examination by discussing Rushing’s statement he filed with his good behavior warrant application. He questioned Rushing about how the statement said nothing about Sack ‘grabbing’ him, asking Rushing multiple times if the written statement said he was grabbed by Sack. Rushing eventually answered that it did not say that, making another comment that prompted Withers to ask that Rushing’s comments be stricken because he was being “flippant, sarcastic and unresponsive.” 

Withers also revisited Rushing’s statements that he sought the good behavior warrant because of Sack’s actions of going to the police. “Ahh…retaliation! A citizen has the right to go to the police when they think they’ve been wronged don’t they?…A citizen has the right to address their county commissioner if they have a concern, don’t they?”

Rushing said ‘yes,’ but not in executive session. Withers then offered to play the audio from the meeting to clarify whether or not they were in executive session. 

Rountree objected to the playing of the audio from the county commission meeting, saying it hasn’t been authenticated. Withers said the rules of evidence don’t apply in magistrate hearings and that Rushing could identify the voices on the audio as it’s played. Ultimately, Griner asked the parties to step out and listen to the audio outside the presence of the judge. 

Upon the return, the audio recording was permitted to be played but Rountree objected to Sack being permitted to ‘press play’ on the laptop because he would need to be close to the judge and witness stand.

Simultaneously, Withers asked the court to take notice of the delay in filing the good behavior warrant, as it was not immediately. Rountree said it was filed earlier than March, as he filed it himself, but there was a delay. He referenced it being filed in ‘mid-February,’ but could not provide a specific date. It was the clerk who said the filing was made on February 20, two weeks after the incident. 

As the audio played, Rushing testified that Sack ‘raised his voice’ and that he only explained to Sack not to text him anymore. 

Rushing also testified that historically, in past meetings, citizens would interact with commissioners in the time period between the regular meeting and executive session. 

Withers asked Rushing if he got angry with Sack for what he was trying to say, to which Rushing said he ‘did not even know what Sack was trying to say.’ 

“He was trying to tell me what I said and I didn’t say it, I read it off of a letter,” Rushing said. Rushing testified that he never gets upset and that Sack was talking louder than he was.

He stated that Sack did not have his fists balled up and he didn’t see anything in Sack’s hand at the time of the incident.

Withers then returned to the written statement filed by Rushing with his warrant application, specifically with regard to the comments made by Sack at commission meetings and on social media. He asked Rushing if the comments were made generally or to Rushing specifically, to which Rushing said they were not to him specifically.

Judge Griner asked Rushing if he felt threatened and he said ‘yes, for a few minutes.’

Roy Thompson Takes the Stand

Thompson testified under the questioning of Rountree that they ‘normally take a few minutes to let everybody leave.” He testified specifically that everyone had left except four of the general people. 

He said he called for the deputies because he walked over to Sack and told him to ‘leave now.’ He said when he looked back, Sack was going down the ramp to leave and another man, not Sack, had to be escorted out because he’d entered the room, which distracted the deputy he had requested.

On cross examination, Thompson testified that there was a wooden partition between Sack and Rushing. He said he did not see Sack touch Rushing, but that he did see Sack reach down and touch the paper. Thompson also testified that citizens did historically approach commissioners between regular session and executive session until the meeting involving the incident with Sack and Rushing. Thompson testified that he did not hear Sack raise his voice at Rushing.

Toby Conner Takes the Stand

During questioning by Rountree, Conner testified he saw Sack go up the ramp out of the corner of his eye and heard them begin their conversation as he continued talking to Lisha Nevil. He said it started about the letter with Dr. Woock, but then the conversation got louder and Rushing stood up. 

“It gets kind of heated, a squabble I guess you could call it. An argument,” Conner said. “I kind of kicked back…I basically heard a good squabble.” 

On cross examination, Withers asked Conner if Rushing was upset, to which Conner said “Yes, I’d say he was perturbed.” Conner also testified that routinely, people approach the commissioners after regular sessions before executive session. “Sometimes multiple people,” Conner said.

Judge’s Ruling

When Conner finished testifying, Rountree said that he had concluded the evidence presentation on behalf of Rushing.

Normally, Griner would have heard Sack’s defense via Withers, but Griner said he could decide on the matter without any additional information or testimony.

“I don’t see any criminal behavior on the part. I don’t think the bond for good behavior is warranted. Mr. Sack, you may have made a bad decision going up the ramp, but I would just advise you not to do that next time. We’re adjourned.”

The hearing was video recorded. Check back for updates.

PART 1

PART 2

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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