In the following article, the names of the defendants have been redacted and initials are used due to the fact that they have been sentenced under the First Offender Act and the Court ordered their records be sealed immediately (as opposed to at the end of their sentence). This is not required under the law, but a courtesy and editorial decision by TGV News.
Two college students charged with a felony for damaging a fire extinguisher at Georgia Southern resolved their cases on Monday.
C.A and Z.S. were charged in September 2020 with one count of Interference with Government Property. According to warrants signed by the Georgia Southern Police Department, the two committed the felonious act when they ‘participated in the theft of a fire extinguisher, property of Georgia Southern University, located on the first floor of the Southern Courtyard Building #2 and did intentionally damage said extinguisher beyond repair.” They were arrested approximately one month later and have been out on bond ever since.
C.A, represented by defense attorney Joey Cowart, and Z.S., represented by defense attorney Gabe Cliett, appeared in Bulloch County Superior Court before Judge Ronnie Thompson. The case was slated for a bench trial, but after 45 minutes of last minute negotiations, a negotiated plea deal was reached and presented to the Court.
The recommendation presented by ADA Barclay Black was as follows:
- 2 years probation
- 90-120 days in a Probation Detention Center (suspended)
- 100 hours of community service
- an Alcohol & Drug Evaluation + any recommended treatment
- 4th Amendment Waiver
- a fine imposed with the amount to be set at the discretion of the judge.
- sentence would be under the First Offender Act (with judge’s approval), and would be sealed from public review at the conclusion of the probation sentence.
Black told the court that both defendants had already completed some community service hours, possibly as part of judicial affairs action taken by Georgia Southern University, and that the state would be willing to accept those hours as part of the sentence if verified by probation.
Given the defense’s decision to avoid a bench trial, which would leave 100% of the sentencing decision up to the judge, it is presumed the offer from the state was better than previous offers made since the defendants were arrested two years ago. The charge carried a sentence of up to five years in prison, along with all of the conditions that accompany a felony conviction.
Both defendants are now 21-years-old and live, work, and go to school elsewhere. Judge Thompson asked them a series of questions on Monday before formally accepting the plea, to include how the fire extinguisher was damaged.
C.A. told the court that they ‘toyed around with it and left it on the ground.’ “They [Georgia Southern Police] said it was broken, so…” The extinguisher was not discharged.
Cowart told the court that C.A had, since his arrest, completed 80 hours of community service and a fire safety course, had a Alcohol & Drug evaluation completed by an addiction counselor, and was working to complete his four-year degree. He also works and helps with the costs associated with going to college and living out of state.
Cliett told the court that his client, Z.S., had been through the judicial affairs process at Georgia Southern and had subsequently paid $100 in restitution to the university to replace the fire extinguisher, which had been valued at $90. He also completed a fire safety course and 40 hours of community service. He works while going to school as well.
ADA Barclay Black had his back turned to the defendants and was talking to other parties for the majority of the time that C.A. and Z.S addressed the court, but toward the end of the hearing, Thompson asked the state about the timing of the sealing of records. Black conceded that the state would not object to the court sealing the records now, as opposed to at the end of the sentence.
The request to do so by defense attorneys will help the students upon graduation during the employment seeking process, instead of having a felony conviction on their records until December 2024.
Both defense attorneys asked the court, when imposing a fine, to consider that while the students have the support of their families, the defendants would be solely responsible for paying those fines.
“We don’t want to get in a situation where he has to choose between going to school and working to pay the fine, Your Honor,” Cliett said. “It defeats the purpose for his father to pay the fine.”
When asked about restitution versus a fine, Thompson asked Black to confirm that the state was not seeking any restitution, but that it did want a fine imposed.
Black told the Court that he believed the defendants should have to pay a fine to pay back some of the costs associated with the case moving through the judicial system.
Thompson told the defendants he would sentence each according to the recommendations with a $500 fine for each, plus the add-on fees associated with financial penalties.
“They’re accepting responsibility and the First Offender Act is out there for cases just like this,” Thompson said. “You made a mistake. There are worse things you could have done.”
Thompson also told them they needed to make their “best efforts” to work to pay off the fine, but on the list of penalties, it was the least important. He emphasized their need to pay monthly probation supervision fees because the probation office will actually incur costs.
Before the hearing concluded, Z.S. apologized in open court to a GSU officer to whom he made an off-color remark. He stated that he was intoxicated and not behaving as he normally would before he apologized for the remarks.
Officer Doyle thanked him for the apology and said she appreciated it.