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Woman who accused Code Compliance officer on network morning show

Posted: July 10, 2012 - 5:31pm  |  Updated: July 11, 2012 - 10:34am

 

A Martinez woman who says a Columbia County Code Compliance officer entered her home without permission is gaining national attention since the incident.

Erica Masters, who captured former Code Compliance Officer Jimmy Vowell on surveillance video as he walked through her front door July 2 while she slept, will explain what happened on NBC’s The Today Show Wednesday morning.

The story went viral, appearing in news outlets worldwide via numerous online news sites. After Vowell’s termination Monday, Masters said she got calls from The Today Show, Inside Edition and Good Morning America.

“I am surprised,” Masters said. “I never expected it to get this far. ... I know media outlets love government corruption. I didn’t think this was one of those cases necessarily. This is teeny, tiny Columbia County and now the whole country knows about us.”

A Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the incident revealed no criminal intent, so Vowell wasn’t charged, said Capt. Steve Morris. After interviewing Masters and Vowell and reviewing Masters’ video, investigators consulted with District Attorney Ashley Wright to see if there were grounds for criminal charges, and concluded none existed, he said.

Vowell was fired, however, because he violated county policy when he entered a home without permission and for lying to his supervisor, Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said Monday.

Vowell at first denied entering Masters’ home, where he was serving her with a violation notice for having overgrown grass, but later admitted going inside after learning about the video.

Masters said she installed the four-camera surveillance system before being medically discharged from the U.S. Army for depression. She’s been struggling to make ends meet as a model, body paint model, dancer and actress while waiting for her disability to be approved. The cameras, she said, provided a level of protection against potentially unsavory people who she could be around on the modeling jobs.

“Once (people) see the video, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘She just wants publicity,’” Masters said.

Masters said she woke just before noon July 2 to Vowell talking to her from her bedroom doorway. Vowell asked Masters to come outside to sign the notice, and waited in her living room as she dressed.

He claimed he walked into the home only after calling out several times, and smelling a foul odor coming from the front door that swung open when he knocked, according to a Facebook message Vowell sent to The Columbia County News-Times Publisher Barry Paschal a few days after the incident.

“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.”

The video shows Vowell knocking on the front door, moving around to a side door, then returning to the front door. The door appears to open when Vowell knocks, and he grabs the handle and closes the door and continues to knock. Because the video does not include audio, it’s impossible to tell what Vowell is saying.

After the incident, Masters first tried to reach Vowell’s supervisor, and then called 911. The dispatcher took Masters’ contact information and passed the information along to a Code Compliance supervisor, who contacted Masters.

Masters didn’t sound distressed while talking to the dispatcher, Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.

“She never called and said ‘I want to file a report.’ It was like she wasn’t really sure of what to do, or who to talk to, and the dispatcher took it like she had questions about what the code enforcement officer had done, so (the dispatcher) made contact with code enforcement to call her. That’s why there was originally no report,” Morris said. “Now, we later came back and filed a report of our own because of this investigation, but it was basically an informational or suspicious situation report we filed placing her as the complainant.”

Masters didn’t call back to seek a police report, Morris said. Instead, the sheriff’s office called Masters the day after the incident to ask her if she wanted her to file a report because Johnson had called Sheriff Clay Whittle, asking him to initiate an investigation.

Masters said she intends to seek civil action against the county because she believes the 911 dispatcher should have sent 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.

“This is a Columbia County reaction,” Masters said. “I don’t think it ever should have gotten to that point. I don’t think they should have had to react to something negative like this.

“Having a theft record, then making house calls just isn’t a good combination in my opinion. I don’t think he should have been hired in the first place.”

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF ERICA MASTERS 911 CALL:

 

Dispatcher: “Columbia County 911, what is your emergency?”

Masters: “First I had a question, but most likely I’m going to have a get a report made for this. Do the county code enforcement officers have the same right as a law enforcement officer to enter a property if they think someone’s safety is at risk?”

Dispatcher: “I’m not exactly sure, I believe so, I’m not sure. What exactly is going on?”

Masters: “I just had one of the county code enforcement officers show up at my house, basically to tell me that my grass is too high, which I know, because my lawnmower is broken.”

Dispatcher: “Mm-hmm”

Masters: “Apparently he knocked on my door. He says that the door opened itself.”

Dispatcher: “Mm-hmm”

Masters: “But I’ve got him on camera, and it looks more like he actually, like, tried the door handle and found that it was unlocked, and then he actually walked completely into my house, into my bedroom…”

Dispatcher: “Oh, OK.”

Masters: “…and actually wakes me up, just to tell me that I need to sign this notice telling me my grass is too high.”

Dispatcher: “Ok. Hold on one moment; let me transfer you to a non-emergency line, OK?”

After a few technical difficulties transferring the call, the conversation resumes:

Dispatcher: “So, did you actually want to speak to someone over code enforcement to see? Or did you actually just want a deputy to come out there so you can do a report?”

Masters: “Um…”

Dispatcher: “It probably could be handled through their office, I’m not sure how you want to do it, go ahead.”

Masters: “I tried to call someone with code enforcement, like the manager’s office or whatever, and he’s not answering right now.”

Dispatcher requests Master’s contact information. Then:

Dispatcher: “What I’ll do is I’ll see who I can get in contact with, and have someone call you back.”

Masters: “OK. Thank you.”

Dispatcher: “Bye.”

  • Comment

Comments (34)

Riverman1

Vowell Comes to the Door Twice

Actually, Vowell leaves the door after knocking and trying the door and looking in the window. He comes back a few minutes later and THEN enters the house. He also obiously stays in her bedroom door talking to her for a good while. Then he lied to his supervisor.

Also, it's well known by now that the woman served 6 years in the Army and receives a VA disability. What good does it do to report her treatment for depression? Tell me what that has to do with Vowell walking in on a sleeping woman?

By the way, from past citations, did Vowell know the house was in a woman's name?

Goaliemom1987

He's a persistent fellow

He's a persistent fellow isn't he?Couldn't he have just left the notice and done a follow up later in the day? He had NO right to walk in that ladys home or her bedroom! He's lucky she didn't have a gun!!!!

Just My Opinion

Well, a picture is definitely

Well, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words! He was obviously wrong. And, like she said, sure doesn't look at all like she is doing any of this for any attention. Firing Jimmy Vowell was the right thing to do.

Devils__Advocate

What's happening when it goes to just one screen?

What single woman, who feels the need to set up surveillance cameras, sleeps with an unlocked door?

All four camera angles should be shown at once, without being focused down to one-screen, to really prove this case.
Was there any interaction off screen on her part while we all were restricted to just the one screen?

And if something HAD happened to her and she was laying there dead, someone would've found a reason to blame HIM for NOT investigating the bad odor, specially with his LE background, and for sure would've sited the number of notices left at her door. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

In retrospect, when one has a clear mind and time to process all of this, things could've been handled differently, such as him calling 911 to report a suspicious situation and waiting for an officer to arrive, and being truthful from the very beginning.

(And personally, why ruin a perfectly good laptop--at least erase the drives and sell/donate it!)

OutOfControl

By the looks of her junky

By the looks of her junky yard, I can see where Mr. Vowell probably smelled a bad odor. Clean up your yard, Ms Masters, it doesn't take a lawn mower to pick up all the debris you have lying all around your house and in your carport. You probably have rattle snakes living under all that garbage.

Riverman1

How Does Door Open Itself?

How does the door open itself? Even an unlocked door just doesn't pop open. We all know that.

soapy_725

Always a good defence

Attack the victim and their credibility. We would hope his defenders are presented with the same "home invasion" of person and property.

Riverman1

Since We Know She is Having Financial Problems

Since we have been exposed to all the problems the lady has with her yard and so on, I'll tell you just how serious it is. She is having lots of financial problems and is having a hard time paying her bills. Her VA compensation hasn't started yet. Realize this young woman served honorably in the Army for 6 years supporting our war efforts, analyzing intelligence from the Mideast. She is quite intelligent and well spoken if you are able to catch her interview. She feels like if she can get a little help, to get past a month or so with her bills she will be okay after the paperwork from the VA catches up.

Let's all get behind this veteran who needs help. Columbia County has given her a bad deal with Vowell, let's show her we care. A fund to help her or direct contributions, no matter how small, would help. Our county proudly has a history of helping down and out vets.

allhans

She says she has been dancing

She says she has been dancing and acting to make a living until her disability comes through. Disability for depression?..there are pills for that
All those cameras and an un locked door....,.Watch out CC taxpayers. This man smelled something, alright.

meriwether123

What is it?

That actually looks like several parts to something. Like something bigger being put together or taken apart. Big pieces of sheet metal like that aren't exactly common. Almost looks like my yard when I was putting my shed together, except the pieces were bigger.

blues550

Welcome To Facebook

Just follow the tiger's facebook posts...looking for loot here?

Youreajoke

Yea it really does look like

Yea it really does look like she's suffering... Not! http://www.modelmayhem.com/portfolio/2308446/viewall

You can clearly tell by her Facebook that's she is just money hungry. Already spending money that she doesn't even have and bragging about how much she's going to get. Has anybody done research to see if this is her first lawsuit she's trying to file? I'm willing to bet it's not her first and won't be her last.

mds7558s

He's Very Lucky

According to Georgia Law, If she had a gun (Pistol) she could have KILLED him, and by her being a soldier, she wouldn't have missed. He should count his blessing that hes still alive.

meriwether123

Okay I'm actually not seeing

Okay I'm actually not seeing anything on her Facebook about money or how much she is suing for. Am I missing something?

maandpa

More than one strange thing

First of all, why would the county employee just walk in someone's house? That takes nerve! I cannot imagine waking up to a strange man standing at my bedroom door telling me that I needed to sign a citation for my grass not being mowed, which I didn't know that such a person existed in Columbia County.

Secondly, why is the lady living in Augusta, Georgia if she cannot find employment as an actor, dancer, model? Really. She needs to live in Los Angeles where the movie industry exists or New York where there are modeling agencies. That is strange too. And she installs a camera because her field involves being around potentially "unsavory" people. What kind of dancing and modeling jobs is she referring too?

Such an entertaining article...and story...

easy breezy

Strange

I think there is more to this story than what is being told. Granted, he had no right going into her house but this is being blown out of the water. Did he harm her in any way? Did he threaten her in any way? Perhaps they know one another? Has anyone taken a look at her Facebook page, which is wide open? Stating that when she sues the County and gets as much as she thinks she is, she's taking her friends to New York. I think there is way more to this story!

OutOfControl

I have said from the beginning that there is an undercurrent

Why was he so persistent? to the point of entering uninvited? He saw the cute little red convertible parked in the carport...every indication was that somebody was home and by golly, he was going to serve that ticket if he DIED trying...he actually RISKED HIS LIFE by just walking in...or did he? He maybe KNEW she wouldn't shoot him? Where does she hang out? Where does Mr. Vowell hang out? Yes...there is something else here that is still hidden from view. To be so fortified with 4 cameras and the door unlocked? To have the cameras rolling conveniently and conveniently the door is just there unlocked? Her roommate didn't know she was just that paranoid about the unsavory people with whom Ms. Masters associated? Many indications, many questions, ulterior motives, a set-up, a cover-up? That's why it's captured the attention of national news.

LTygress

Just to clarify

I'm not going to bother answering all of the questions here, or giving extra parts to the story that may or may not be getting covered by the media. Channel 6 is on the way for an updated interview, Fox News has contacted me, Inside Edition has contacted me, and Good Morning American purchased the segment from the original reporter, Mike Miller, who works for their affiliate.

What I do want to say however, is that I do have a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. But whatever profile you all are seeing is NOT MINE. My profile is almost 100% private. The direct link to my own facebook profile is:
www.facebook.com/erica.masters

My twitter is @LTygress

I'm not suggesting you all add me as a friend or follow me. But any other source claiming to be me, IS FAKE. I do not have Instagram. I do not have Skype anymore. I do not use Google. I do not have a website in my name. ANY source aside from those two mentioned above is absolutely fake.

Youreajoke

ltygress

Yea that is the profile I'm seeing but whats funny is that you deleted all the comments that made you look guilty of being money hungry. But i do have proof that it was once there!

Youreajoke

You are crazy and belong in a

You are crazy and belong in a looney bin!

Youreajoke

Why does there need to be an

Why does there need to be an updated interview? Did somebody else go in your house? Lol

meriwether123

Youreajoke

You're sounding a little obsessed about this. TV stations do follow-up interviews all the time on all sorts of stories. It's nothing new. And since this has hit national news now, it makes sense that the local stations want to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information.

And I also looked her up on FB yesterday but I never saw anything that you're mentioning. Did you get a screenshot that we can see?

And crazy or not, she's not the one caught on video doing something wrong. Come to think of it, maybe you are Mr. Vowell, and just trying to make the victim look bad.

Youreajoke

Oh no I'm not Mr. Vowell but

Oh no I'm not Mr. Vowell but I will call you out if I think you're an idiot. Which you are. And we all know that you are Erica posting under a different name. Btw yes I did take screen shots :)

Youreajoke

And actually I quoted

And actually I quoted everything that was on your page earlier but that somehow got deleted. Hmmm...

meriwether123

Not possible

Erica already posted under her own name. Good try.

Let's see the screenshots though.

Riverman1

Excellent Interview on Today Show

She had an excellent interview on the Today Show. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone wants to attack the victim in this matter. Does someone think she tricked him into entering her house or something? I don't get it.

Youreajoke

Ha!

Ha!

OutOfControl

I don't get it either, Riverman

I don't think she tried to trick Mr. Vowell into entering her home, I'm just wondering how on earth anybody could be foolish enough to enter one's house under those circumstances...he seemed so nonchalant about peering into her sidelight windows, etc...is it possible that he had already seen her out and about and thought she wasn't a threat? The hypothetical situations are endless~I guess his brazen demeanor has me wondering what was going through his mind. I absolutely agree she was a victim, and Mr. Vowell would have probably met my friend Smith & Wesson if he had entered my home like that. But something made him feel safe enough to enter...I just can't accept sheer stupidity on his part, but perhaps that's exactly what it was and nothing more.

MyOpinion21

Crazy!

What I saw was the guy being persistent, and by the loos of the yard and carport, he should have been. I saw what looked like while he was knocking harder on the door, it came open. He shut it back. Later came back and went in after standing at the door calling for someone.

I bet he thought he was going to find something bad & that's why he walked in. However, I think he should have called the police to report it and let them handle it.

National news? Crazy! If he violated policy, I could see him being on probation, or loosing his job. But what if he was truly concerned for the safety of the residents of the home? Has he done any interviews? Anyone know the guy?

I would be mad that someone came into my house, sure, but I wouldn't do interviews for all the new media! The man lost his job - isn't that enough?

MyOpinion

OutOfControl

Absolutely extenuating

Absolutely extenuating circumstances...but he LIED when he was asked about entering the home. Had he not lied, he probably would have not been fired. Why did he lie? If his intentions were purely honest, why would he lie? He would have had nothing to fear if he had stuck with the truth, but he didn't...another indication that there is something he was trying to hide... His explanation is completely reasonable...lying (sp) is not.

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