Judge: Dramatic video of car hitting deputy shows 'total disregard for human life'

Becky Campbell • Jan 13, 2012 at 5:57 AM

Three people charged in an armed robbery that ultimately led to a county deputy’s being hit by the getaway car were bound over to a grand jury after a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Retired Sessions Judge John Kiener heard the case after the county’s two current judges recused themselves. Kiener increased the robbery charge on all three to aggravated robbery after hearing evidence and denied defense attorneys’ requests to lower their bonds.

Dalvin Jashauntelynn Stephens, 18, 1726 Dave Buck Road, was driving the Chevy Cavalier that hit Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Daugherty at 11:14 a.m. on Jan. 2. Daugherty was trying to adjust a spike strip he threw out on Tenn. Highway 81 South in an attempt to disable the suspect’s vehicle.

Stephens is charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, felony evading arrest, failure to yield, driving on a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident with injuries and six counts of reckless endangerment.

The reckless endangerment charges stem from vehicles Stephens passed on a double yellow line during the pursuit.

Two passengers in the car also face charges.

Reginald Dewayne Smith, 41, 1419 Colony Park Drive, and Ashley Nicole McGraw, 18, 127 Forest Hills Drive, are charged with aggravated robbery, evading arrest and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Part of the evidence presented Thursday included a video recording from another officer’s patrol car. It shows Daugherty getting hit, flying into the air and landing on a paved area beside the road.

Prosecutors also played a second video — this one from Daugherty’s car — that shows him throw out the spike strip and enter the road to adjust it. The suspect’s vehicle comes into the screen and veers sharply to the left as Daugherty tries to get out of the way.

Instead, Daugherty was hit and thrown into the air toward his car.

Investigators maintain Stephens could have avoided Daugherty if he had either hit the guardrail or traveled across the spike stick.

Stephens’ attorney, Casey Sears, questioned WCSO Sgt. Sam Phillips Jr. about the amount of space shown between Daugherty and the guardrail.

“If Officer Daugherty had just stood there he wouldn’t have been hit, right?” Sears asked Phillips. Phillips said he couldn’t determine that based on the video, but said Stephens had more than one choice.

In closing arguments, Sears said the video depiction showed an aggravated assault, not an attempted murder.

Defense attorneys for McGraw and Smith, Phillip Ratliff and William McManus, didn’t make that claim, but argued there was not probable cause to bind the case over.

Kiener disagreed, and both videos played a role in the case being bound over as charged.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a more dramatic video than this,” Kiener said during his ruling to bind the cases over to a grand jury. “I agree with you, General (Tony) Clark, this is one of those cases where the individuals seem to have a total disregard for human life. It’s just a miracle the officer wasn’t killed.”

Sgt. Lee Cross, who was directly behind the car Stephens drove that day, was testifying when prosecutors presented the video from his in-car camera.

Cross witnessed Daugherty get hit.

“I thought he was dying. He was laying on his side, blood gurgling from his mouth, blood coming from his head,” Cross said.

He called for help immediately.

“Officer down, officer down. Vehicle versus officer,” Cross told his dispatcher.

Cross said his speed earlier in the chase was around 72 mph as he attempted to catch up to the Cavailer.

Investigators estimate Stephens was traveling between 70 and 80 mph when he hit Daugherty.

The officer continues to recover and was scheduled to begin rehabilitation this week. He suffered a compound fracture of the right arm, a wrist fracture, knee fracture and internal injuries.

After Cross testified, the two robbery victims took the stand and told Kiener that Smith held a gun to their heads and demanded money and “weed,” referring to marijuana.

The trio went to the residence at 310 Sand Valley Road, where Daniel Hylmon lived with his friend Eric McElyea because they believed they could get drugs at that location.

According to statements given to Phillips, Stephens had been there the previous summer and stiffed a man named “Joe” out of drugs and McGraw’s brother had been there to get marijuana in the past.

There was no information presented about how long Hylmon, McElyea and McElyea’s mother have lived at that address, but both men denied having any involvement in marijuana, nor was there any evidence officers found marijuana in the car after arresting the three.

Smith told Phillips in his statement that he went into the residence and bought one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana.

According to their statements to Phillips, Smith and McGraw told Stephens to stop after he struck the officer.

The car finally stopped, but only when it hit a tree as the driver attempted to turn into a driveway.

The three fled on foot, but gave up after other officers caught up to them.

Deputy William Rhodes testified he took Smith into custody first and Smith asked how the officer was doing.

“The only thing I said was they had launched Wings,” Rhodes testified.

Stephens and McGraw were located a short time after Smith’s arrest, Rhodes said.

Stephens was driving McGraw’s car that day after he asked to borrow it to go get the drugs. McGraw, who is pregnant with Stephens’ child, told Phillips she didn’t like anyone using her car so she went with Stephens.

After Stephens hit the officer, McGraw asked him, “Now what are you going to do?” according to the statement she gave Phillips.

Stephens is being held on $210,000 bond, while McGraw’s bond is set at $75,000 and Smith’s bond is $170,000.

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