District Attorney Scott Colom speaks about the ongoing problem of criminal defendants intimidating and bribing witnesses at a combined press conference of his office, Lowndes County Sheriff's Office and Columbus Police Department at the Columbus Municipal Complex Wednesday. LCSO investigators recently arrested four people for bribery after an aggravated assault suspect allegedly bribed his victim. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
October 19, 2017 11:11:27 AM
Four people face bribery charges after a Lowndes County Sheriff's Office investigator learned a suspect in an aggravated assault was attempting to offer his alleged victim money.
Jarvis Alexander, who was arrested in early September for allegedly shooting at an occupied vehicle, is accused of arranging to pay his alleged assault victim, 34-year-old Nicholas Edwards, LCSO investigator Hunter Parker said. Alexander's mother, Jo Ann Davis, 53, and Edwards' girlfriend, Latoya Gavin, 32, were also implicated.
Alexander, Davis and Gavin are all charged with offering the bribe. Edwards is charged with accepting the bribe. None of their bonds have been set, and they are still in custody at Lowndes County Adult Detention Center.
The case highlights a troubling trend in criminal defendants resorting to illegal means to get charges dropped or convince witnesses to change their testimony, District Attorney Scott Colom said at a combined press conference by his office, LCSO and Columbus Police Department at the Columbus Municipal Complex Wednesday.
"More and more we are seeing defendants attempt to subvert the criminal justice system by either intimidating, promising or trying to find some illegal means to get a victim or witnesses to drop charges or change their testimony," Colom said.
CPD Capt Brent Swan, who oversees investigations at the department, said police have investigated multiple cases over the last couple of months in which criminal suspects or their family members actually threatened witnesses.
"One of (the suspects') family members will try to intimidate (the witnesses) to drop charges, try to put pressure on them," Swan said. "We've had threats, we've had several different occasions where these cases came up. We've made some arrests and we've presented some cases to the grand jury.
"Once somebody becomes a victim it's our responsibility to try to protect them through the system," he added. "We always tell the victim to reach out to us if anybody tries to get them to ... change their testimony in any way."
In September, authorities charged Morris Lanier, 31, with two counts of intimidating a witness after he allegedly harassed and threatened a witness in his aggravated assault case.
Lanier is one of two suspects charged with aggravated assault for a shooting outside The Princess Theater in March. The other suspect's mother, Velma Jean Williams, 53, was arrested for intimidating a witness in the days following the shooting after she allegedly called and threatened a witness in her son's case.
Colom asked victims of crimes to have faith in the justice system rather than change their testimony.
"We know sometimes it can be slow and tedious, but eventually through traditional, legal means, we can get you justice," he said. "If you give up on that system or drop charges because you're threatened or intimidated, all you're doing is making our community less safe and ... protecting criminals."
He added the Legislature last year changed the statute on bribery from a 10-year maximum penalty if convicted to 15 years maximum.
"Based on the support the bill got to increase the penalty, it must be a statewide trend," Colom said. "I can tell you from talking to other district attorneys in our prosecutor conference, it's a problem to become more and more serious. We just want people to know in our district, we're not going to tolerate it."
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