Mayor and police chief of Springfield appear in court for hearing

The Investigators: Springfield mayor and police chief hearing

LIVINGSTON, LA (WAFB) - Springfield Police Chief James Jones and Mayor Charles Martin were back in court Thursday with their attorneys arguing to get key material in their case thrown out -- audio recordings.

The case dates back to April 2011 when a Springfield police officer stopped a woman driving the wrong direction down Hwy 22. Records show that woman, Tyra Jones blew twice over the legal limit, 0.185 and was ticketed for DWI.

Later that same night, again the next day and even the following week, that officer alleges the Martin "asked if he would have a problem if the mayor "took care of his friend" and "reduce the DWI to a reckless operation citation"."

After refusing to reduce the charge initially, fearing retaliation, the officer told investigators he finally agreed.

Thursday, both the mayor with his attorney Lance Unglesby and the chief with his attorney Timothy Fondren were in court who said their clients did nothing wrong by reducing the ticket.

Unglesby: It happens in court all the time. I mean that's the discretion the prosecutors have.
Kiran: The mayor has that discretion too?
Unglesby: No, police officers have that discretion.
Kiran: Wasn't it reduced at the direction of the mayor?
Unglesby: It was reduced. The request was made, 'Can you reduce it,' and as a result of that, he reduced it. Officers reduce things all the time.

Kiran: Was it reduced at the direction of the police chief though?
Fondren: Again, factually, we will find that out as this case moves along. We believe he (the officer) did it voluntarily.
Kiran: Even after the first time he said he didn't want to do it?
Fondren: We don't even know if that statement occurred.

A month later, the State Inspector General's Office launched an investigation on whether the mayor and chief used their positions in return for a personal favor.

IG investigators asked the arresting officer to record his conversations with the police chief. The 9News Investigators obtained copies of those audio recordings where the chief told the officer he just finished speaking to state investigators.  Chief Jones said he told them reducing the charge was Mayor Martin's decision.

"The mayor told them that he pretty much was the one that did it," said Chief Jones on the audio recording to the officer. "We were under the impression that it was legal to do so. If we made a boo boo, we'll do what we gotta do and, I said, 'But apparently you're here so it is a boo boo and I can assure you it won't happen again'."

The mayor and chief were arrested in July 2011. A year later they were indicted on four felonies: obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice, injuring public records, and criminal conspiracy to injure public records. Both pleaded not guilty.

At Thursday's hearing, attorneys for both the chief and mayor asked Judge Bruce Bennett to prevent the state from using those audio tapes as evidence during trial.

"Police officers need to go get a warrant from a judge to conduct the behavior, the activity they did," said Unglesby.

The mayor & chief's attorneys said, per state law, in order to record a conversation, at least one party must have consented, but their question is whether an officer can legally consent or did he need a warrant to record the conversations.

Kiran: If these three audio tapes are allowed, will that be destructive to your case?
Fondren: No, not at all. Again, what we're trying to do is protect the constitutional interest of our client.
Kiran: If they're not destructive to your case, why do you need them suppressed?
Fondren: The Constitution requires their suppression.

The Attorney General's office has 10 days to respond. The Defense will then have 10 more days to respond to the prosecution. Judge Bennett is expected to render his verdict on Oct. 27th and set a trial date.

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