September 7, 2017 10:44:55 AM
A jury in Lowndes County Circuit Court found a woman accused of threatening the Department of Human Services not guilty.
Roschell Cotton, 40, was indicted for simple assault on a public servant and making a false bomb threat after DHS social workers reported she called them in July 2016. In the phone call, Cotton allegedly claimed she would blow up the DHS building and threatened to kill Tina Mason, the family prevention specialist who recommended DHS take custody of Cotton's children.
But Cotton's attorney, Collen Hudson, appeared skeptical about the threats and repeatedly asked the employees who testified why they waited until the day after the phone call to report Cotton to law enforcement. She suggested "water cooler talk" around the office gradually turned the phone call into a bigger threat than it actually was.
Hudson's argument was apparently enough to convince the jury, who found Cotton not guilty on both charges.
Hudson said after the trial that she was pleased with the outcome.
"It was a serious charge," she said. "...I'm hopeful of where (Cotton's) going to go."
"We respect the jury's decision," District Attorney Scott Colom said. "We hope Ms. Cotton becomes a productive citizen."
Family protection specialist Reshundra Shaffer was the CPS employee who took the phone call in July 2016. During the trial, she told the jury of the 10-minute phone conversation. Initially, Shaffer explained, Cotton wanted to speak to the social workers' supervisor. But when Cotton was told she was busy, the threats began - particularly threats against Mason.
"(She said) that she was going to kill that white b****, that she better watch her back and that she was going to blow up the building," Shaffer said.
Shaffer recognized Cotton's voice and Cotton identified herself, but the phone conversation was not recorded. Under cross examination, Shaffer said that despite Cotton's threats, she wasn't worried the building was going to blow up that day. She also said Cotton never used the word "bomb."
Shaffer said she reported the phone call to her supervisor but that as far as she knew the supervisor never called police. Shaffer herself accompanied Mason to the Columbus Police Department the next day to report the phone call.
Mason told the jury of the threats Cotton allegedly made a week before the phone call after a foster care review meeting.
"She looked back at her sister and said, 'I'm going to kill that white b****'," Mason said.
Under cross examination though, Mason changed the phrase to "I could just kill that white b****."
Mason also would not say she feared Cotton would physically attack her in that moment, saying only that she didn't know what Cotton would do.
In a video of Cotton's interview with police, Cotton admitted she lost her temper on the phone with DHS but repeatedly said she did not threaten to blow up the building.
"I promise you, they took it the wrong way," she said.
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