A former Harris County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to 17 years in prison, eight to serve Thursday afternoon on a sexual assault conviction by Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters.
Pierson is also required to register as a sex offender.
Pierson was convicted on Aug. 30 on two counts of sexual assault on a person in custody related to one of three traffic stops that were the subject of the eight-day trial. He faced up to 25 years in prison for each of those convictions. He was also convicted on six additional charges, on which Peters said the sentences, ranging from 12 months to five years, would be served concurrently to the sexual assault charges.
The judge was stern and did not mince words when he handed down the sentence.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I have a different take on it,” said Peters, a former Muscogee County sheriff’s deputy. “It is not one incident of having sex with one lady while on duty. It was a pattern.”
Peters admonished Pierson for his behavior while on duty.
“That was his access,” Peters said of the traffic stops. “He abused his power.”
It is not clear how long Pierson will serve in the Georgia prison system. The judge noted that was up to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. Pierson’s defense attorney, Bernard S. Brody of Atlanta, said his client would be eligible for parole in 22 months. Pierson spent more than two months in jail when he was arrested last year before making bond. He has been incarcerated since the conviction, totaling almost four months, and Peters gave him credit for time served.
“He could be eligible in as early as 18 months,” Brody said.
The woman whom Pierson admitted performed oral sex on him on Valentine’s Day 2016 was clear in her victim’s statement that she was the victim of a sexual assault.
“I was sexually assaulted on the highway in broad daylight on the side of the road in Harris County,” the woman said. “And I was verbally assaulted on the witness stand.”
Pierson apologized to all three women by name.
“I did not act appropriately and I am responsible for my actions,” he told the court.
The woman made it clear she wanted Pierson’s time in prison to be difficult, asking the judge not to provide him with protection just because he was a law enforcement officer.
“He and his family can spin this any way they want,” she said. “But I hope he is not protected because I wasn’t protected when I was under his custody.”
About 50 of Pierson’s family members and friends packed the left side of the courtroom, sitting behind the defendant. He broke down apologizing to them.
“I am so sorry,” he said.
He talked off the cuff without a prepared statement. He said he grew up in the church.
“I was raised to be a better man than I have been,” he said.
He struggled to get the words out as he spoke directly to Peters.
“I have talked to my family and they know how sorry I am,” Pierson said. “My wife has stayed with me and I am eternally grateful to her. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make this up to her.”
He also apologized to Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley, who was not in the courtroom.
“It is the worst I have ever behaved in my life and not a representation of who I am,” he said.
Amy Baxter, an associate pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist in Columbus when Pierson attended that church, was Pierson’s pastor and has known him for about 10 years.
Baxter said that two days after Pierson had been accused, confronted and placed on leave, he called her and they had a meeting in the prayer chapel with other ministers. “He told us everything,” she said, “the same thing he told you. He was incredibly remorseful.”
Baxter, who said she performed the wedding ceremony for Pierson and his wife, made it clear she was not trying to convince anyone that Pierson was “perfect.”
“He is the same on the wedding day as he is when we are walking through something that is awful, which this is,” Baxter said.
Pierson’s father and his uncle were both law enforcement officers. His uncle, Bobby Pierson, was a career officer with the Columbus Police Department and asked the court to show leniency, saying that his nephew had been hired by two sheriff’s departments and was an Eagle Scout.
“I believe in the justice system, but I also believe in Tommy,” Bobby Pierson said. “I know in his mind and heart that he has let us down. He feels through that a torment.”
Assistant District Attorney Bill Lisenby Jr. said the graphic testimony and videos presented during the eight-day trial revealed Pierson’s true character.
“Mr. Pierson was, in fact, a predator with a badge,” Lisenby said. “... Fortunately, these women had the courage to come forward and go through a trial.”
Lisenby asked Peters to sentence Pierson to 25 years in prison, 15 to serve. He also asked that Pierson be required to register as a sex offender. Brody asked for probation, but the judge made it clear he did not consider this a probation case.
Pierson was acquitted in August of the most serious charge, aggravated sodomy, in which a woman claimed he forced her to perform oral sex during that traffic stop.
He was facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted on the aggravated sodomy charge. He was facing between 1 and 25 years in prison on each of the sexual assault on a person in custody charges, and Peters had the option to stack the sentences or run the terms concurrently.
Brody repeatedly referred to the sexual encounter as consensual.
“It is hard to separate what he was accused of and what he was convicted of but they are two separate things,” the attorney said.
The judge took exception to that.
“If a person is in custody and you got a gun and total control, they cannot give consent,” Peters said.
The other two victims also testified.
A woman who lives in Harris County and was stopped by Pierson said she has been deeply impacted by the events.
“I did not deserve to be dragged into this,” she told the judge. “I get no pleasure from this.”
“When I go out in the world, I need to look at myself through the eyes of men who will do me harm,” she said.
“He didn’t want it to end — to hell with what I wanted,” she said.
The youngest of the victims, in her impact statement, asked the judge to sentence Pierson to 10 to 20 years in prison. She also was blunt in talking about the impact the case had on her.
She pointed out a remark made by Pierson’s attorney, Brody, during the opening statement. Brody pointed to the woman, sitting on the first row, and told the jury she “was gorgeous and anyone can see that.”
“As if that made Tommy Pierson’s actions understandable and acceptable,” the woman told the judge.
She then explained how the experience has altered her life and the way she thinks since the incident and the trial. It impacts her daily actions, she said.
“If I smile and he grabs my ass, it’s my fault,” she told the court.
Pierson was sentenced to 12 years, eight to serve on each of the sexual assault on a person in custody convictions.
He was also sentenced to:
▪ Five years on a false imprisonment conviction related to the same traffic stop in which the sexual encounter occurred.
▪ Twelve months on a tampering with evidence related to that traffic stop.
▪ Five years each on four counts of violation of public oath stemming from the three traffic stops. One of those five-year sentences was ordered to be consecutive by the judge.
The judge then told the court the sentence would be 17 years, with eight to serve.
“Don’t ask me how long he will serve,” Peters said to Pierson’s family. “That’s up to the Board of Pardons and Paroles.”