Brent Powell, a Cochran, Georgia police officer, was arrested earlier this week on charges of child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes and interference with custody. In addition to being a member of the Cochran, Georgia police department, Mr. Powell had also served as the police chief for a small town in Wilcox County, Georgia. The Macon Telegraph has the story.
But Officer Powell is not alone. There were at least two other police officers charged with serious sex crimes this week in Georgia.
Gregory Graham, a Fulton County police officer, was charged this week with child molestation, incest and rape. He was arrested at his home in Coweta County where the charges are pending. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has the story.
And there’s one more. A Forest Park, Georgia police officer was also arrested this week and charged with child molestation. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is following that story as well.
If any of these officers are convicted or later plead guilty to these charges, they are looking at mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years and up. Child molestation charges also require sex offender registration and onerous conditions of probation once the prison terms have been served. Of course, as police officers, they will likely have problems with their POST certification and ability to continue in law enforcement.
Our firm has represented several law enforcement officers charged with serious crimes. Criminal cases involving police officers as defendants present some unusual challenges for defense lawyers. On the plus side, most jurors seem to require a higher level of proof before convicting a person who has a long and honorable record of serving their community. On the negative side, the punishment for officers convicted of serious crimes is usually more severe than for most other defendants. Many judges and prosecutors say that police officers should hold themselves to a higher standard. (In reality, they are probably more concerned about the negative public perception that is created when a police officer is charged with a serious crime.) Regardless, the punishment for a cop who breaks the law can be unusually harsh. There is also a lot more pre-trial publicity in these cases. That can make them harder to defend.
Obviously, we don’t know if these officers are guilty of anything. They should get the benefit of the doubt they are entitled to under law before they lose their certification. Many times the allegations are not true. We have seen far too many cases where the investigating officers rushed to judgment without first conducting a proper investigation. We have had several clients accused of child molestation where the charges were later found to be false. Fortunately, we were able to get these cases dismissed before trial.
If the criminal defense lawyers representing these officers do their homework, the allegations will be thoroughly investigated prior to indictment. Perhaps they will also consider polygraphs and forensic experts. (Although polygraphs cannot usually be admitted in trial, absent a stipulation with the prosecutor, they can be very helpful in resolving these cases before they ever get to trial.)
If they are acquitted, or the charges are later dismissed, I hope these officers will remember that it’s easy (but wrong) to charge someone with a serious sex crime like child molestation without a proper investigation. As they will no doubt soon appreciate, just an arrest for a sex crime can dramatically change someone’s life. Even if the charges are later proven false.