A half-dozen Columbus Police officers and Muscogee County Sheriff's deputies rushed to subdue a suspected church vandal after he began wrestling with a nearby guard during Monday morning's Recorder's Court hearing.
James Morris faced six counts of vandalism to a place of worship during the hearing.
Burglary and Theft Detective Thomas Hill connected Morris to the crime after six south Columbus churches discovered windows shattered by 15 to 25-pound concrete boulders. The rocks were thrown between 5 p.m., April 5 and 8 a.m., April 6.
Hill learned that elders at three affected churches —Crown of Glory Outreach Ministries, New Life House of Prayer Ministries and Twelve Disciples Baptist Church — had confrontations with Morris not long before the vandalism began. Elders said Morris frequently paced outside both New Life and Crown of Glory, sometimes harassing attendants. A Twelve Disciples representative once asked Morris to leave church grounds for unruly behavior, Hill said.
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The day after the vandalism, New Life representatives say Morris mocked the damage done to New Life from across the street.
"I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of what he yelled was that, 'You may want to look into security before this happens again,'" Hill said. "He thinks churches should be open 24-hours, so that's a potential motive for the crime."
Hill decided to approach the 25 year old at his Youmans Street address, located less than two blocks away from one of the targeted churches. He told Morris he was investigating crimes in the area and exchanged business cards before examining nearby properties for the source of the rocks.
At Valley Healthcare System, Hill found a recent construction area with discarded concrete piled near the tree line. The rocks matched those thrown through the church windows, he said.
Later, New Life provided security footage that showed Morris lobbing a large rock at the door.
Morris remained silent through the majority of the hearing, making no eye contact with pastors and elders representing the churches. But when Judge Michael Joyner mentioned that the case might be deferred to Mental Health Court, Morris shouted incoherently and began shoving the deputy guarding him.
Mental Health Court, also known as Veterans' Court, aims to place non-violent offenders in mental health treatment programs in lieu of jail time. Morris is presently serving a sentence for unspecified charge, Joyner said.
"I'm not sure if the case will be deferred to Mental Health Court," Joyner said. "This individual has a history of mental illness with the court. It'll be up to Superior Court to make that decision."
Morris' bond was set at $15,000.