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County responds to lawsuit

Posted: January 2, 2013 - 5:11pm  |  Updated: January 6, 2013 - 12:08am

Columbia County has filed a response to a woman’s lawsuit against the county and the former code compliance officer who admitted entering her Martinez home without permission.

Erica Masters, who now lives in the Atlanta area, filed the civil suit Nov. 6 in Columbia County State Court seeking $300,000 plus court costs for physical and emotional distress she suffered when Jimmy Vowell entered her unlocked home July 2.

Attorneys for the county filed a response on Dec. 7 denying the allegations except to admit that Vowell violated county employee policy by entering her home. The response also denies that Masters was injured and asserts she is not entitled to any relief.

Masters’ claims also are barred by her failure to mitigate damages, according to the response, without specifying what form that mitigation would take.

Vowell, who was fired shortly after the incident, was at Masters’ home to deliver a violation notice from a neighbor’s complaint that her yard was unkempt and overgrown. He claimed at the time that he entered the home only after knocking repeatedly and calling out, and that he smelled something from inside when the unlocked door swung open.

Masters’ home had a surveillance system, and a video of the incident showed Vowell walking through the home and standing in her bedroom doorway. She said she awakened to find Vowell talking to her from the hall, and that he retreated to her living room and waited there while she dressed.

After Vowell delivered the county ordinance violation notice, he left the home and Masters tried to call Vowell’s supervisor with Code Compliance but was unable to reach anyone. She then called 911 and, when she told the dispatcher she was uncertain whether she needed Vowell’s supervisor or a deputy, the dispatcher took her information for Code Enforcement to contact her.

County Administrator Scott Johnson suspended Vowell and then contacted the sheriff’s office for an investigation. An investigator interviewed Masters and Vowell and reviewed the surveillance footage. Vowell was not charged because there was no criminal intent in his entry of the home, officials said, but he was fired because the entry was a violation of department policy.

Vowell appealed his termination to the county’s Civil Service board, which determined the firing was “too excessive.”

On Nov. 20, the Columbia County Commission rejected a recommendation to rehire Vowell.

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Comments (6)


Civil service board expense

Who pays for the civil service board and it's actions? They determine the firing was excessive and recommend the county rehire Vowell. This is rejected by the commission??!? What's the point of the board? To give Vowell basis for a lawsuit? That's what the commissioners did by rejecting the recommendation by their own board. If the board is lame and has no authority or influence then why have it??!?


I'd Give Her the Money

The unwise recommendation of the Civil Service Review Board just emphasizes that attitude of county government over the matter. Pay her.


I Disagree

Physical and emotional distress ?? Seriously ? Prove the physical. I wonder if Erica has installed the camera system in her new digs in Atlanta? I wonder if her lawyer is also a friend of hers -- "court costs"... ?


RipJones256, could be. I

RipJones256, could be. I wonder if Vowell was after "county costs" ?


She should get whatever she

She should get whatever she ask for...And Jimmy Vowell should never have been hired in the first place much less rehired. He was fired from RC.. What do we just want rejects???? He is not the police! Why was he in her house. and what she has in her house in nobodies business. she can have a camera on every wall. He was wrong. If he thought something was wrong he should have called the real law..He is arrogant and thinks he can do what he wants!


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