A Columbia County Code Compliance officer accused of going into a Martinez woman’s home uninvited won’t face criminal charges.
The Columbia County sheriff’s investigators completed an investigation Friday into a Monday incident where Code Compliance Officer Jimmy Vowell was accused of entering a Martinez woman’s home without permission.
Capt. Steve Morris said Vowell won’t be charged and the findings of the investigation were released to Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson.
Erica Masters said she woke Monday to Vowell talking to her from her bedroom doorway.
“I had on no glasses or contacts,” Masters said. “I could see his figure in my doorway.”
Vowell was there to serve a violation notice to Masters for having overgrown grass. He claimed he smelled something coming from the house and called out several times, according to a Facebook message Vowell sent to The Columbia County News-Times Publisher Barry Paschal. When he knocked, Vowell said the front door swung open.
“I had no idea who lived there or even if anyone did,” Vowell wrote in the message. “I had no idea if someone was hurt, dead or what. ... From what I saw and (smelled), I reacted on instincts telling me something was not right in that house.”
Masters said everything was alright except that she was scared when she was woken from sleep by a stranger in her home. Vowell asked Masters to come outside to sign the notice and waited in her living room as she dressed.
Masters said she called 911. But when the dispatcher found out the man inside her home was a county employee, the dispatcher transferred her to Vowell’s supervisor and didn’t send a deputy to her home.
“I just feel like, ‘I’m violated and you’re not going to send a deputy to my house to check on me to make sure I’m okay?’” Masters said.
She left a message with the supervisor and the sheriff’s office contacted her for a statement Tuesday morning. Masters also provided footage of the incident from surveillance video cameras inside and outside of her home.
Johnson said Vowell was put on administrative leave during the investigation the sheriff’s office conducted.
“Certainly it is an issue that is troubling,” Johnson said Wednesday. “We feel it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The policy on entering a home is to never enter a home without permission unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Masters said Vowell entering her home was scary.
“I wake up every hour or every other hour, I want to check all the locks,” Masters said Friday. “I’ve never been this way, so it’s a big blow.”
Masters said Vowell might have knocked, but she didn’t hear it in the bedroom.
She said she intends to seek civil action against the county for not properly handling the complaint by sending a deputy to her home. She also contends the county didn’t properly check Vowell’s background before hiring him.
Vowell, a former Richmond County sheriff’s sergeant, resigned in 2004 after he admitted taking a laptop computer that was slated to be destroyed from the evidence room, according to a story published at the time in The Augusta Chronicle.
Now, Masters said she plans to move out of Columbia County.
“I still think the county was neglectful,” she said. “... This is going to create animosity between me and the county. ... I really can’t trust the county not to hire the right people not to do this again.”