A former Murray County sheriff’s captain who pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation into the false arrest of a witness cooperating in last year’s judicial ethics probe of a Murray County magistrate was sentenced Wednesday to a year and a day in prison.
Michael Henderson was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy for witness tampering during state and federal investigations into the false arrest of Murray County resident Angela Garmley. At the time, Garmley was cooperating with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in an ethics inquiry of then-Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran. Henderson is Cochran’s first cousin.
Henderson will remain free until he reports to prison in January 2014. Federal prosecutors had recommended an eight-month sentence, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said. Henderson pleaded guilty last April to lying to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, prior to the FBI’s entry into the case, when questioned about Garmley’s arrest.
“By lying to his fellow law enforcement officers, Mr. Henderson obstructed a public corruption investigation,” said Yates. “But, in addition to violating the law, Mr. Henderson also violated the trust given to him by Murray County’s citizen.”
Mark F. Giuliano, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “Today’s sentencing of former Captain Henderson marks the end of an otherwise successful and promising career in law enforcement with the Murray County Sheriff’s Office. Actions that betray an officer’s sworn oath and the overall public trust bestowed upon them cannot be tolerated. With today’s sentencing, former Captain Henderson is being held accountable for those actions.”
JQC Director Jeffrey Davis said after Henderson was sentenced, “Commission witnesses should never fear retribution for cooperating with an investigation of a judge. We will continue to share information with state and federal investigators when there is evidence of criminal activity.”
Henderson’s attorney, William Sparks, said he had no comment on Henderson’s sentence.
Garmley’s attorney, McCracken Poston of Ringgold, said that Henderson offered his apologies for the arrests of Garmley, the man who was driving her car when a deputy under Henderson’s command stopped it for failing to dim its headlights, and Garmley’s ex-husband. “He did apologize to me afterwards, shook my hand and told me to tell them he was sorry,” Poston said.
Poston also called Cochran as “the obvious mastermind” behind Garmley’s arrest. Cochran’s attorney, Atlanta lawyer Page Pate has confirmed that Cochran has been the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, although he has not been charged.
Cochran resigned his judgeship the day after Garmley was arrested last year. His resignation ended the JQC inquiry, which had focused on allegations that Cochran had signed blank search and arrest warrants for use by law enforcement authorities and had told female litigants in his court, including Garmley, that he was willing to trade favorable rulings for sex.
Garmley and the man who was driving her car were charged with felony drug possession after the deputy found a small tin of illicit drugs hidden in the car’s left front wheel well. Federal prosecutors said that Henderson participated in the traffic stop.
The GBI quickly determined that the drugs had been planted and asked that the charges be dismissed. The deputy, Joshua Greeson, has pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal investigation and was sentenced last month to 10 months in prison. Both Greeson and Henderson were fired from their jobs after the arrests were dismissed.
Henderson lawyer Larry Stagg told the Daily Report after Henderson entered his guilty plea that Cochran had tipped Henderson weeks before the traffic stop that Garmley’s car was being used to transport illegal drugs. Stagg said that Cochran didn’t tell Henderson how he came by the information. Federal prosecutors said that Henderson shared that information with other county deputies.
Stagg said there was nothing unusual about Cochran’s call. “It’s fairly common for policemen to get a call [saying], ‘Hey, this person has got dope,’” he said.