The suspicion shadowing Russell County baseball coach George Garland Jr. after a bench-clearing brawl March 23 at Northside High School was dispelled Monday when a judge dismissed Garland’s simple battery charge.
Columbus Recorder’s Court Judge Mary Buckner said she heard too much conflicting testimony to sustain the accusation Garland punched a 15-year-old Northside player in a home-plate scuffle at the junior varsity game. So she dismissed the case for lack of probable cause.
The testimony came from 15 witnesses, most of them associated with Russell County High School. Under questioning from defense attorney Stacey Jackson, some witnesses backing Garland said they never saw the coach punch the Northside player.
That player was at bat during the 4 p.m. game when the umpire called a strike. Another Northside player then tried to take third base, and the batter and catcher made contact as the catcher was throwing to third. The boys at home plate faced off and a fight started, provoking other players to charge in. The home-plate umpire said he initially tried to break up the squabble, then stepped away as other players approached. Garland said he rushed into the fray to try to restrain his catcher, whom his witnesses said the coach held in a “bear hug.”
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His catcher, also a 15-year-old, told Buckner he was the one who then got an arm free and started punching the Northside player in the face. But the umpire, the Northside player and the player’s parents testified Garland was the one who punched the batter.
“I saw him hit me in the face,” the batter told Buckner.
The umpire and the batter’s mother also said they saw Garland punch the boy, noting the Russell County coach was noticeable as the only one in the scuffle wearing a maroon jacket.
But witnesses on the Russell County side said it was the catcher who started punching the batter. An assistant Russell County coach described the catcher’s blows as “solid in the face.” The catcher and the catcher’s mother also said he was the one who hit the batter. Garland, the last to testify Monday, said that when the fight started, he dashed in to restrain his catcher and protect the boy from the Northside players swarming around him. He saw his catcher punch the batter, too, he said.
After the fight, officials advised him to get his players and fans away from the field because of the tension, he said. But as he was leaving, a Northside parent walked up to him and said, “That was my kid you punched. You’re going to jail.”
Rather than leave, Garland waited for the police to arrive, he said. An officer talked to some of the Northside fans and then handcuffed Garland and put him in a police car, Garland said.
Then Russell County parents started returning to the ball field to give the officer their side of the story, Garland said. After that, the officer released him with a principal summons to appear in Recorder’s Court.
Jackson, Garland’s attorney, said after Monday’s hearing that had no adult been accused of striking a child, the junior varsity brawl never would have resulted in a criminal charge leading to Recorder’s Court.
Garland played high school baseball at Russell County and was a part of the 2005 team that was honored as the USA Today national champion.
Head coach Tony Rasmus, who coached Garland in Little League, said Garland missed one game after a state administrator stepped in. He wasn't suspended but "they just wanted to make sure there wasnít anymore raucous," Rasmus said.
Monday would have been the junior varsity's last game, but it was postponed because of the hearing. Rasmus says they are hoping to make it up, but if not, Garland will assist with the varsity for the rest of the season.
"I hated that Michael (Garland) asked for a continuance the last time or it would have ended that day," Rasmus said. "It drug on but we ultimately knew what was going to come about from the hearing. I don't have a sense of relief. Iím just glad it's over for him."
Update (4:15 p.m.): A judge Monday dismissed the charge of simple battery against Russell County High School junior varsity baseball coach George Garland Jr.
Garland was charged March 23 after an on-field altercation that took place between Northside and Russell County. He was alleged to have struck a Patriot player during the fight.
His original hearing was set for March 25, but Garland requested a continuance so he could find a lawyer.
Original story: Russell County High School junior varsity baseball coach George Garland Jr. was charged Saturday afternoon after he allegedly struck a Northside High player during an on-field altercation at Northside, according to a Columbus Police report. He was charged with simple battery.
Monday afternoon, Recorder's Court Judge Mary Buckner continued Garland's case during a 2 p.m. hearing.
Garland asked for the continuance so that he could have time to find a lawyer. The Russell County High School coach said he had trouble finding an attorney before Monday's hearing because the event took place on Saturday.
Garland's preliminary hearing is set for April 8 at 2 p.m.
Police were called Saturday by the mother of a 15-year-old player. According to the report, Garland was arrested after he struck a juvenile several times in the face with a closed fist. Garland was not taken to Muscogee County Jail but was given a summons to appear in court, said Russell County varsity Coach Tony Rasmus.
Rasmus, who was not at the game, said Sunday his understanding is that Garland was just trying to break up a fight that began between a couple of players at home plate. Rasmus said Garland is “a Christian” and that anyone who knows Garland knows he would not just hit a child.
“He is just not that type of person,” Rasmus said.
Rasmus said that he was told there were “conflicting reports.”
Garland, listed as Michael Garland on the Russell County High website, is a science teacher. He primarily teaches anatomy and physiology, but also teaches earth science.
Northside coaches could not be reached for comment.
The father of the boy reported to have been hit had no comment other than to say “there are no winners in something like this.”