A private investigator for Tonya Craft, who was acquitted of child molestation charges in May, claims a Catoosa County court is trying to quietly make his assault charge against one of the prosecution witnesses disappear.
The Catoosa County magistrate judge who handled the case between investigator Eric Echols and witness Sandra Lamb said he already ruled on the case. But a court transcript of the August 2009 hearing shows the judge saying he would not make a decision at that time.
“It’s already been heard,” Judge Vic Wells said Wednesday. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Craft, a former Chickamauga schoolteacher, was found not guilty on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery. Lamb is the mother of one of Craft’s accusers. Echols worked as an investigator in Craft’s child custody and molestation cases.
Before a hearing last year in Catoosa County Magistrate Court, both Echols and Lamb filed warrants against the other, claiming they were threatened, court documents show.
Echols claimed Lamb assaulted him and used racial slurs when he tried to serve her with court documents at her home, while Lamb claimed Echols would not leave after she asked him five times, documents show.
Echols recorded Lamb hitting him and yelling racial slurs on his cell phone.
During the hearing, which was to determine whether criminal charges actually should be filed against either Lamb or Echols, Lamb is recorded as saying she filed the wrong paperwork and instead wanted to get a restraining order against Echols, documents show.
Lamb said Wednesday that she never went to a warrant hearing with Echols and didn’t want to comment on the case.
When Echols told Wells he wanted to continue with the case for his assault claim, Lamb asked to have legal representation, documents show. The judge ordered the case to be heard at a later date.
“I’m not going to hear either one of them today,” Wells said in the transcript.
According to a court document, the date for the hearing was set for Monday. Echols said when he called to check on the status of the hearing, Deputy Magistrate Clerk Ginger Posey told him Wells had canceled it, saying he’d already made a ruling.
“Why would a judge rule on something when, in his own transcript, he says he’s not ruling on it?” Echols asked.
Posey said Wells told her he already had made a decision last year.
No documents in the Catoosa magistrate court office show Wells made a ruling on the case.
Echols plans to appeal the decision that Wells said he made, but said he is worried the Superior Court judges will recuse themselves from the case.
Echols also is facing three counts of influencing a witness. He was arrested on those charges in August 2009 after the father of an alleged victim in the molestation case said Echols threatened him. But all four Catoosa County Superior Court judges recused themselves from that case in June.
The charges allege Echols threatened the father of one of Craft’s accusers. But a transcript of the recorded conversation between Echols and the father shows the men having a polite conversation.
No documents have been filed as of Wednesday on Echols’ criminal case.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...