August trial set for former deputy accused of assault, stalking women he stopped in Harris County
An ex-Harris County sheriff’s deputy accused of sexual assault on one woman he pulled over and sexual misconduct with two others remains headed for trial Aug. 7 on 12 charges, despite his attorney’s attempts to sever some of those allegations and to have the trial moved to avoid prejudice.
Thomas Carl Pierson’s Atlanta attorney Bernard Brody also challenged a charge that his client tampered with evidence by turning off his patrol cruiser’s camera during his Feb. 14, 2016, encounter with a woman who alleges he forced her to give him oral sex.
Brody argued that under the law, the evidence first must exist before it can be tampered with, as the law prohibits destroying, concealing, altering or disguising such evidence. “All he did was turn it off,” he said of Pierson’s patrol car camera. If the camera recorded nothing, then Pierson had no evidence to destroy or conceal.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Liseby Jr. countered that the evidence did exist, because the camera was recording when Pierson turned it off in an attempt to obstruct his prosecution.
Judge Bobby Peters told Brody the defense could ask him for a directed verdict of acquittal on that particular count after the evidence is presented at trial.
Next Brody wanted separately to try the last four charges in Pierson’s 12-count indictment, saying they are not comparable to the first eight involving the woman Pierson allegedly assaulted on Valentine’s Day 2016.
Here is a breakdown of Pierson’s accusations:
In the 2016 case, Pierson pulled the woman over for speeding about 1 p.m. on Georgia Highway 85 near Victoria Airpark Drive north of Waverly Hall, authorities said. He wrote her a warning and let her go, but pulled her over again five miles away, near Twin Lakes Road, where he allegedly switched off his cruiser’s camera and forced the woman to give him oral sex.
In that incident, prosecutors have charged him with aggravated sodomy, sexual battery, false imprisonment and tampering with evidence, and with two counts each of violating his oath as a public officer and sexual assault on a person in custody.
After that case made the news last year, two more women accused Pierson of sexually inappropriate conduct related to traffic stops.
One said that on Oct. 20, 2015, Pierson pulled her over, engaged in inappropriate behavior, then showed up at her Warm Springs Road home the next day, investigators said. For this authorities have charged him with stalking, a misdemeanor, and with violating his oath as a public officer, a felony.
The other woman said Pierson behaved inappropriately after pulling her over on Sept. 12, 2015, then followed her to her grandmother’s home on Holland Road “for the purpose of harassing and intimidating” her. For this prosecutors added one additional count each of stalking and violating his oath.
Brody argued the last four counts are significantly less serious that the first eight, and trying them at the same time could prejudice jurors into thinking Pierson must be guilty if his conduct was so consistent.
Brody noted Pierson’s defense is that the sex in 2016 was consensual: “He’s already conceding that there was inappropriate sexual contact,” the attorney said.
That distinguishes the 2016 case from the two in 2015, when Pierson merely was “flirting,” he said: The only common thread is that all three cases involve traffic stops.
Trying all those charges together could confuse jurors, he said: “I think it distracts them from the ultimate issue in this case.” That issue is whether Pierson committed sexual assault, he said.
Lisenby told Peters all three cases involve Pierson’s inappropriate sexual conduct while violating his oath and exhibiting the same pattern of stalking women by pulling them over, letting them go, then tracking them down. It shows “the same bent of mind, the same common scheme,” he said.
Peters said he would rule on Brody’s motion after reading court precedents on severance, but indicated he was not inclined to agree. Breaking one trial into two or more erodes judicial economy and efficiency, he said.
The judge said he also would decide later on Brody’s motion for a change of venue. Brody said extensive news coverage of Pierson’s case has tainted potential jurors in Harris County.
That coverage includes reports of Pierson’s role in the Aug. 31, 2015, death of a teen Columbus police chased into Harris County, where deputies used spikes to blow the teen’s tires before breaking out his truck windows, Tasing him and pinning him to the ground.
The 18-year-old Northside High School graduate stopped breathing during the arrest and later died. His parents filed a lawsuit accusing Pierson of fatally injuring the teen by placing his knee on the back of the suspect’s neck while he was face-down.
Peters said he would consider Brody’s venue motion after the court determines the extent to which such publicity has affected the jury pool. The judge and attorneys decided the 80 people summoned for jury duty would get questionnaires asking what they knew about the case.
Pierson, who was 38 years old at the time, was fired after the woman in 2016 accused him of assaulting her. Authorities said she drove to another county that same day to report what had happened. Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley learned of the allegations the next day and asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate.
Pierson first was charged on May 6, 2016, when he went to the Harris County Jail in Hamilton to surrender to GBI agents. A grand jury indicted him July 22.
Pierson had worked for the Harris County Sheriff for 16 months. He previously had worked for the Muscogee County Sheriff at the jail here in Columbus.