Case involving a former Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy
In 2016, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) recently arrested a former Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy, Thomas Carol Pierson. He faces an array of charges relating to charges that he sexually assaulted women at traffic stops. After Pierson’s arrest, the Harris County sheriff asked the GBI to initiate an investigation into the matter. The department terminated Pierson before any criminal charges were brought against him. He was employed by the sheriff’s office for approximately 16 months.
During the investigation, GBI found several females with similar claims of Pierson’s misconduct at traffic stops. He was eventually charged with a 12-count indictment, including counts of aggravated sodomy, sexual battery, sexual assault, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence, two counts of stalking, sexual assault on a person in custody, and four counts of violating a public officer’s oath. Each of the charges is a felony crime.
Pierson turned himself in to agents of GBI at the Harris County Jail. He was released on bond awaiting trial. The investigation will be turned over to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office when complete for judicial review.
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Criminal Charges Facing Defendant Pierson
Aggravated Sodomy. Several states still have sodomy laws in force, including Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Utah, Florida, Mississippi, Idaho, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003) said that the law is unconstitutional to bar consensual sex and called it a 14th Amendment violation.
Aggravated sodomy differs from deviate sexual intercourse because it is forced behavior.
Under O.C.G.A. 16-6-2 (2010), an individual commits sodomy if he/she submits or performs a sexual act involving the sexual organs of a person and the anus and mouth of another person. If convicted of the crime, the defendant faces a minimum 25-year to maximum life in prison sentence. Following the sentence, the individual receives probation for life.
Sexual Battery. Under O.C.G.A. 16-6-22.1 (2010), an individual commits sexual battery when he or she knowingly contacts with intimate bodily parts of another person without his or her consent. If convicted of the crime, he faces five years in prison for each count.
Sexual Assault (Rape). Under O.C.G.A. 16-6-1 (2010), an individual commits an offense of rape when he or she takes another person forcibly (and against her will). If convicted or rape, the offense is punishable by death, life in prison without parole, life in prison, or a split sentence (prison term of at least 25 years but not more than life imprisonment, followed by lifetime probation).
False Imprisonment. Under O.C.G.A. 16-5-41 (2010), an individual commits an offense of false imprison, he violates the liberty of another person by arresting, confining, or detaining them without the legal authority to do so. If convicted of the offense of false imprisonment, the defendant faces a minimum one-year and maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Tampering with Evidence. Under O.C.G.A. 16-10-94 (2010), an individual commits the offense of tampering with evidence if the person intends to obstruct the prosecution/defense of a person and knowingly destroys or conceals physical evidence or otherwise makes false evidence. The punishment for the crime is typically no more than a three-year prison term. However, if the individual commits the crime as part of a “serious violent felony” (Code Section 17-10-6.1(a)), the punishment range increases to a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Stalking. Under O.C.G.A. 16-5-90 (2010), an individual commits an offense of stalking when he or she contacts, surveils, or follows another individual without his or her consent for the purpose of intimidating or harassing the other person. An individual convicted of stalking may be imprisoned for a minimum of one year to a maximum of 10 years.
Sexual Assault on a Person in Custody. Under O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1 (2010), an individual commits a crime of sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority if the individual is an employee/agent of a law enforcement agency and makes sexual contact with another person being detained/in custody of a law enforcement agency. If convicted, the crime is punishable by a minimum one year to 25-year prison sentence plus a maximum fine of $100,000.
Violating a Public Officer’s Oath. Under O.C.G.A. 16-10-1 (2010), if an individual is committed of the crime, he or she faces a minimum one-year and maximum five-year prison sentence for each count.
Investigation of the Crimes
The GBI researched Pierson’s arrest records and learned he had a track record of stopping women at traffic stops. A total of three women had accused Pierson of sexual misconduct. The investigation of each crime would involve the following steps:
- Sexual battery. In Georgia, a charge of sexual battery is typically made in connection with a child molestation case. In a sexual battery case, the criminal defense attorney might use the same pretrial motion and investigative strategies used in a child molestation case. However, since the case example doesn’t involve child molestation, the defense attorney would work around the fact that there wasn’t an eye witness or any physical evidence to either prove or disregard the allegations.
That’s why the experienced criminal defense attorney works with leading experts and investigators—and stops at nothing to dismiss the charges. In addition to standard investigation strategies, the defense attorney gathers evidence that may assist in impeaching the accusers’ credibility. This might involve gathering posts for social networks, mobile records, medical or mental health records, and computer records. Witnesses may be called to shed light on the accuser’s motives or credibility. The criminal defense attorney must locate any co-worker, relative, or acquaintance with this relevant information. Forensic interview techniques are used.
When a case involves an alleged child injury, laws in Georgia allow the defense to conduct pretrial deposition(s) of the doctor(s) treating him or her. Dismissals or acquittals may be obtained from depositions when the criminal defense attorney uncovers additional causes of the victim’s injuries. The defense will commonly use jury consultants, mock trials, focus groups, and so on.
- Sexual assault (rape). It is essential for the criminal defense attorney to dissect the complaint itself and the alleged victims’ testimonies to build a compelling case. The knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will use all of the investigative strategies referenced above to obtain a dismissal or acquittal for the defending facing the severe consequences of a sexual assault or rape charge.
- False imprisonment. This is a very serious charge in Georgia. Since the individual faces both false imprisonment and sexual assault charges, his criminal defense counsel would need to identify all of the information to impeach the accusers. Note: Citizens of both Georgia and Texas typically hold conservative views about the police.
- Tampering with evidence. In every state, evidence collected by a sheriff’s deputy or other law enforcement agency must be handled in a certain way. When the evidence isn’t properly handled, the prosecution may accuse the defendant of tampering with evidence. In investigating a tampering with evidence charge, it is crucial to compare the agency’s “rule book” to the entries made by the accused.
- Stalking. Stalking is the opposite of legal surveillance. The law specifically states that the stalker surveils or contacts a person with for the “purpose of harassing or intimidating” him or her. It is important for the criminal defense attorney to consider the alleged stalker’s intent. Did he or she surveil another person to willfully and knowingly cause emotional distress by putting the targeted individual in “reasonable fear” for their safety? A stalking crime doesn’t equate to “overt intimidation.” It may be the result of the accused’s unintended consequences.
- Sexual assault on a person in custody. The criminal defense attorney must carefully review the evidence available and look for inconsistencies.
- Violating a public officer’s oath. One or more convictions under this charge are possible if the prosecution proves a large percentage of the others.
What if This Case Happened in Texas?
If this case happened in Harris County, Texas instead of Harris County, Georgia, the defendant would still face the possibility of life behind bars:
- Sexual assault is punished as a felony in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code § 22.011 & 22.021, the convicted individual faces a minimum of two years and a maximum of 20 years in prison plus a maximum $10,000 fine. If the assault was particularly violent, the crime may be considered a first-degree felony. In that case, the individual faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 99 years in prison, plus a maximum $10,000 fine. A criminal defense attorney may argue that the sexual activity between the accused and accuser was consensual when two adults (18 years of age or older) are involved. It’s also possible for the defense attorney to enter an insanity plea if the accused lacks the ability to control his actions or to understand what he was doing or to understand that what he did was unlawful.
- Rape and sexual battery crimes are defined under Texas Penal Code Chapter 22. If convicted of a crime, the Texas offender faces a minimum two-year to a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $10,000. Proving sexual assault can be challenging for the prosecution. It may come down to the defendant’s word against that of his accuser. If DNA is available, it may be used as evidence. Consent is a critical factor in a rape and sexual battery case.
- Felony sexual assault may be charged if the sexual organ of a person contacts with the sexual organ, mouth or anus of another (including themselves). In Texas, a person who performs non-consensual sexual contact may be charged with sexual assault regardless of whether penetration occurred in the act. Texas Penal Code Section 22 describes felony sexual assault as a second-degree felony crime that is punishable by a minimum two-year to a maximum 20-year prison term and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Again, proving accusations of sexual assault may be challenging. DNA evidence might not be available and, without witnesses, it is a question of one person’s word against the other.
Possible Consequences of the Defendant’s “Sexual Misconduct”
Regardless of the outcome, the defendant’s life won’t be the same after many months of scrutiny by the media. If he is convicted of the crimes, he faces the possibility of decades to life in prison. If he serves out his sentence, he will be followed by probation for life.
He would also be required to register as a sex offender. In that case, he will be restricted about where he can live, where he can work, and access to certain federal benefits. Sexual offender registration can last from 10 years to the rest of the offender’s life.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Any one of the charges facing the defendant represents a legal emergency. If you or someone you care about has been charged with a sex offense in Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney now. Brett A. Podolsky is board-certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the State of Texas. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case review.