With admonishments to local law enforcement and significant concerns about the credibility of a key witness, Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison granted a defense motion to suppress Friday in the vehicular homicide case against Katelyn Elizabeth Jones. The order brings into question now whether the state’s case against Jones remains viable.
In former Glynn County Police Officer Kevin Yarborough’s testimony in August, he said he would have initiated a traffic stop on Jones’ vehicle regardless of earlier discussions with Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team investigators because he said she was traveling northbound on I-95 between 80 and 85 mph.
“If the only reason for Yarborough to initiate the stop on Jones’ vehicle was its speed, then his subsequent supplement of his initial report to include the information supplied to him by the GBNET investigators was unnecessary,” Harrison wrote.
GBNET officers were involved in otherwise improper activities regarding an alleged controlled methamphetamine purchase and surveillance that occurred outside of their jurisdiction — the alleged deal that led to the pursuit took place in Nassau County, Fla.
Yarborough testified he didn’t recall which person with GBNET told him to set up by the interstate, just inside the county line, to wait for Jones’ car, but he said he was told the vehicle contained within it a large amount of narcotics.
Yarborough further said he initially left all of this information out of his report following a discussion with GCPD Chief John Powell, former Chief Assistant Brian Scott and former Capt. David Hassler at the scene.
“Notably, the defense only became aware of the initial version of Yarborough’s report the afternoon before the court’s Aug. 1, 2019, hearing on Jones’ motion,” Harrison wrote. “The defense had sent subpoenas for documents to GCPD Chief Powell, who responded on the afternoon of July 31, 2019, by providing to defense counsel a thumb-drive containing over 18 gigabytes of documents and videos.
“Included therein was the prior version of Yarborough’s report, which had not been produced to either the state or the defense.”
Harrison goes further in a footnote, stating “the court feels compelled to note its disappointment with the obfuscation and lack of transparency it has observed on the part of law enforcement in this case, and hopes not to see similar conduct in the future.”
As to the suspected narcotics, there was no “large amount” found along the interstate or inside Jones’ vehicle, casting doubt as to whether controlled substances in significant amounts existed at any time in the vehicle during the surveillance and pursuit.
In a footnote, Harrison mentions, “Interestingly, and based on allegations in the indictment, the only narcotic found in the vehicle was a small amount of alprazolam, a far cry from the ‘large amount of narcotics’ communicated to Yarborough by the GBNET investigators.”
Adding on to that is the further lack of reliability in Yarborough’s and GBNET investigators’ statements. Harrison makes a point, however, in noting that coming to his decision, he did not rely on the defense’s proffer filed Wednesday nor issues raised by the defense regarding Yarborough’s mental health and treatment for it.
Harrison concluded, “Without any corroboration of Yarborough’s testimony as to the vehicle’s speed; and compounded with the court’s concerns related to the modification of Yarborough’s report and its having personally seen and heard his testimony, the court simply does not find Yarborough to be credible and therefore cannot credit his testimony that he observed Jones’ vehicle committing speed violations which would justify a traffic stop.
“As such, and absent some other particularized suspicion, the court concludes that Yarborough lacked authority to stop Jones’ vehicle and Jones’ motion is hereby granted.”