Court worker fired af­ter his crim­i­nal case file dis­ap­pears

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY TYLER JETT STAFF WRITER

A Walker County state court em­ployee has been fired af­ter his crim­i­nal file dis­ap­peared.

So­lic­i­tor Chris Town­ley said he re­ceived a tip in late Septem­ber that some­thing un­to­ward hap­pened to an old DUI charge against Lewis Thomas Per­due, who worked as a state court in­ves­ti­ga­tor. An of­fi­cer ar­rested Per­due in De­cem­ber 2012, and the case was filed in the clerk of court’s of­fice in Jan­uary 2015.

Town­ley, who be­came so­lic­i­tor Sept. 1, isn’t sure why the case didn’t en­ter the court sys­tem for so long. But in his role, Per­due could re­move files from the of­fice. Ac­cord­ing to a log, Town­ley said, Per­due checked out his own file and never re­turned it.

A key prob­lem? Ge­or­gia law re­quires pros­e­cu­tors to bring DUI cases to court within two years of their fil­ing, Town­ley

said. That means Per­due’s case seems to have died in Jan­uary 2017. Town­ley is look­ing into whether there are any other le­gal prece­dents that would al­low the case to end.

“It’s pretty clear the statute has run,” he said. “But I’m still in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Town­ley said he still doesn’t know where the file is. He said Per­due ex­plained that he didn’t mean to de­stroy the file and be­lieved some­one may have ac­ci­den­tally thrown it away while clean­ing the of­fice. Town­ley then fired him.

“Mr. Per­due was do­ing a won­der­ful job for me,” Town­ley said. “He was do­ing great. I had ab­so­lutely no com­plaints un­til I dis­cov­ered this. … He’s a nice fel­low who was do­ing a re­ally good job. To me, it’s a shame.”

Town­ley said he plans to re­place Per­due with an em­ployee who will fo­cus on co­or­di­nat­ing court dates with vic­tims and wit­nesses, mak­ing sure they know when a case will go be­fore a judge. That was a prob­lem in June, when State Court Judge Bill Mul­li­nax dropped a false re­port of a crime case against Dorothy Marie Gass, an Alabama woman whose 911 call led to a fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing in Rossville.

Though an agent with the Ge­or­gia Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, which led the case against Gass, told Mul­li­nax to post­pone the case, it went for­ward in June any­way. No of­fi­cers were there to tes­tify. The fam­ily of the vic­tim also didn’t know the case was un­fold­ing. In re­sponse, a Walker County grand jury has since in­dicted Gass on a sep­a­rate charge, bring­ing her case to a higher court.

Though there is no phys­i­cal file against him, the pa­per­work on Per­due’s case also was dig­i­tally scanned. The records left be­hind show an of­fi­cer stopped him around 6:50 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2012, when he weaved out of his lane. In a ci­ta­tion, an of­fi­cer wrote that the

“Mr. Per­due was do­ing a won­der­ful job for me. He was do­ing great. I had ab­so­lutely no com­plaints un­til I dis­cov­ered this. … He’s a nice fel­low who was do­ing a re­ally good job. To me, it’s a shame.”

— SO­LIC­I­TOR CHRIS TOWN­LEY

car smelled like al­co­hol. Per­due’s eyes also were blood­shot.

It’s not clear what Per­due’s blood al­co­hol con­tent was.

Ac­cord­ing to Walker County court fil­ings, he was ar­rested for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence here twice be­fore. A charge from Septem­ber 2003 was re­duced to driv­ing with­out a valid li­cense. A charge from Novem­ber 2004 was re­duced to reck­less con­duct.

Per­due could not be reached for com­ment. Former State Court So­lic­i­tor Pat Cle­ments, who stepped down at the end of Au­gust, also could not be reached. His brother, LaFayette at­tor­ney Chuck Cle­ments, told a re­porter Fri­day that he would leave a mes­sage for him.

Pat Cle­ments still is work­ing part time for state court. One day in Septem­ber, Town­ley said, Pat Cle­ments pro­cessed some plea agree­ments in an of­fice in the first floor of the court­house, along­side se­nior judge Don­ald Pep­pers.

Pat Cle­ments was the one who filed the charge against Per­due in Jan­uary 2015. It’s not clear why he didn’t do any­thing with it af­ter­ward.

“I haven’t had any sig­nif­i­cant dis­cus­sions with Pat, other than let­ting him know that Mr. Per­due wasn’t work­ing with us any­more and why,” Town­ley said. “He was sad that it hap­pened.”

Con­tact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@times­freep­ress. com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Let­sJett.

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