Sheriff’s Dept. in trouble over prisoner release

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department is facing a contempt ofcourt hearing later this week after allegedly violating a circuitcourt order by releasing a Georgia fugitive back to authorities inthat state last month.

During Monday’s circuit court action, Judge Mike Taylorscheduled the hearing for Thursday at 9 a.m. in a case involvingEdmund G. Cowan Jr. According to case records, Cowan had escapedfrom a Georgia prison in 1998 following his conviction on a chargeof aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.

Cowan, under a different name, was arrested Oct. 5 by LincolnCounty authorities on an unrelated charge. A fingerprint checkrevealed his criminal past and his Georgia connection.

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On Oct. 6, Taylor issued an order, a writ of habeas corpus, forCowan to appear at Monday’s hearing. However, Cowan’s attorneyJames Kitchens said he learned three days later that Cowan had beenreleased by the Sheriff’s Department to a private transportationcompany to be sent back to Georgia.

“We were astounded, shocked that it happened,” Kitchenssaid.

Special Assistant Attorney General Jeff Klingfuss argued Mondaythe Sheriff’s Department was acting under executive authority fromthe state when Cowan was released at the request of Georgiaofficials. The state office handles extradition-related matters incourt proceedings.

With Cowan out of Mississippi, Klingfuss said Monday’s hearingwas a “moot point.”

“We essentially have no purpose to have this hearing,” Klingfusssaid.

Klingfuss said the only purpose of Monday’s hearing would be tolook at the legality of the extradition papers.

“Once the body is out of the jurisdiction, it can’t bereviewed,” said Klingfuss, adding that Cowan’s remedy would now bein Georgia.

Kitchens said subpoenas were issued to Sheriff Wiley Calcote andInvestigator Steve Rushing for them to produce documents showingwhat authority they had to release Cowan. Kitchens said Calcote hadearlier faxed him a receipt from the transportation company afterit took possession of Cowan.

During Monday’s hearing, Rushing presented the department’s casefiles involving Cowan. There was no testimony.

Klingfuss agreed with Taylor’s suggestion that Cowan’s releasewas an “incurable mistake.” The judge, however, asserted courtorders and subpoenas have a purpose.

“That means something in Brookhaven…or it’s going to,” Taylorsaid.

Taylor continued Monday’s activities until Thursday for a showcause hearing. The purpose of the hearing will be for the Sheriff’sDepartment to show cause why it should not be held in contempt.