A Criminal Court judge said Wednesday he will not prevent uniformed Washington County sheriff’s deputies from attending the trial of three people accused of trying to kill an officer, but said there should not be an overt display that could intimidate a jury or the defendants.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled on the motion filed by one of the attorneys in July.
The defendants, Dalvin Stephens, 18, of Johnson City; Reginald Dewayne Smith, 41, 1419 Colony Park Drive; and Ashley Nicole McGraw, 18, 127 Forest Hills Drive, are charged with attempted first-degree murder and attempted aggravated robbery.
Smith faces additional charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and tampering with evidence. Stephens faces additional charges of reckless endangerment, evading arrest and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.
The attempted murder charge stems from injuries Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Daughtery suffered Jan. 1 when he attempted to throw out a spike strip to help stop a car carrying robbery suspects.
Stephens was driving the car, and investigators believe he intentionally swerved to hit Daugherty.
Officers were trying to stop the car because the three were suspected of a home invasion attempted robbery just prior to the pursuit.
At most of the court appearances for Stephens, Smith and McGraw, 20 to 30 uniformed and plainclothes officers attended in support of Daughterty. On Wednesday, Blackwood counted 12 uniformed officers, but there were also several others in plainclothes.
“While it may be unintentional on the sheriff’s office’s part, the presence of uniformed officers could be an intimidation factor,” said Gene Scott, Smith’s attorney.
All three attorneys — Scott, Casey Sears for Stephens and Debbie Lonon for McGraw — agreed the officers have the right to attend the trial, but they don’t want a jury to feel intimidated by the large presence.
But Blackwood held back from ordering the sheriff’s office to bar employees from attending the trial while wearing a uniform, but said the issue should be approached with common sense.
“They’re all entitled to be here, that’s a given,” Blackwood said. But without knowing how many uniformed officers not connected to the trial might attend the proceedings, Blackwood said he should be notified before a large contingent shows up.
“At this time I’m not going to issue and order,” to prevent officers from attending. “I think we’re going to have to use some common sense,” Blackwood said.
“If there are going to be 20 or 25 officers here all during the trial, I’m going to have to take some steps to ensure it’s not going to be intimidating,” he said.
Blackwood said there is nothing wrong with a show of camaraderie, and “they’ve got a right to support their officer,” but he has a duty to keep the atmosphere from being intimidating during a trial that was scheduled for October, but now is set for Jan. 9.
The trial move came when Blackwood granted a defense motion from Sears to delay it because he doesn’t have all discovery from prosecutors and his client, Stephens, is scheduled for a mental evaluation next month.
McGraw’s attorney, Debbie Lonon, also joined in asking for the continuance and the state did not oppose it either.
But Scott, the attorney for Smith, said he is ready for trial and opposed a delay.
“I’ll go to trial whenever. We’re ready,” Scott said. “I think my client deserves to have this matter tried and Officer Daughterty deserves to have this matter tried.”
But with more reason than not to reset the trial, Blackwood chose for a later date. He also set a motion hearing for Sept. 11.
The three defendants remain jailed due to not making bond. Stephens has a $201,000 bond, Smith has a $170,000 bond and McGraw is being held on a $75,000 bond.
Daugherty, who has attended all hearings, is still recovering from his injuries and has not returned to duty.