SHERIFF DOUBLES-DOWN: WELCH WAS THERE

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Alex Hodge sticks to story that deputy was there for Burroughs’ justice court date in January; judge’s records say differently

Alex Hodge

The day that a story and documents were published showing that Deputy Josh Welch did not appear in Jones County Justice Court on Jan. 12, Sheriff Alex Hodge was still insisting that he did.

“The Jones County Sheriff’s Department is officially stating that Josh Welch and Brennon Chancellor were at Justice Court on January 12, 2017,” JCSD spokeswoman Allyson Knotts responded by text message. “I can’t give you more than we know, and what we KNOW is our deputies were where they were supposed to be.”

That statement was sent in response to a request for comment on a Thursday story in which Justice Court Judge Howell Beech said that the sheriff and Maj. Jamie Tedford were trying “to find a scapegoat” but “looking in the wrong place” as the Leader-Call tries to uncover why Greg Burroughs went unpunished for five misdemeanor charges from last summer.

A copy of a court document provided to the Laurel Leader-Call showing why charges against Greg Burroughs were dismissed in January. The reason given was “officer not in court.”

Beech had documents showing that the prosecutor and defense each asked for one continuance, which is allowed, and they settled on a court date of Jan. 12. Burroughs was charged with DUI and child endangerment for operating his company vehicle while impaired with his 8-year-old daughter riding with him on the night of July 2, 2016. Those charges were filed by Chancellor, who is a DUI specialist for the JCSD, and Welch charged Burroughs with domestic disturbance, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Since Welch was the first on the scene and called Chancellor there to administer sobriety tests, he was the “probable cause” officer, so his testimony was needed to get a conviction, county prosecutor Wayne Thompson and Beech explained.

On documents that Beech provided, he noted “officer not in court,” initialed with an “HB,” to show why the charges Welch made against Burroughs were dismissed and why he was found not guilty of the charges that were filed by Chancellor.

“Before the sheriff makes a statement about justice court, he needs to check the records,” Beech said earlier this week.

Hodge, Tedford and Knotts called Leader-Call owner Jim Cegielski last week to comment on a column he wrote that questioned many points of the latest case involving Burroughs — the shooting death of his 23-year-old girlfriend, Katherine Sinclair, in the garage of his home. One of the points Cegielski questioned was why Welch wasn’t in court. But the JCSD officials insisted that he was there, which prompted Beech to call a reporter to tell his side and provide the documents to back his statement. The JCSD has provided no documentation and denied a request to allow a reporter to interview Chancellor.

Chief Tyrone Stewart at the Laurel Police Department, where Welch is now employed as an officer, has said that his officer can talk to the media, but so far, Welch has chosen not to.

The sheriff’s department has no involvement in the shooting case, which is being handled by the LPD. But the Leader-Call has been looking back at past cases involving Burroughs and found a pattern of him not being punished for crimes he’s accused of or charged with.

Thompson said he had no specific recollection if Burroughs was in court that day. He noted that justice court is not a court of record, meaning there is no court reporter. But he said he had no reason to doubt the documents that Beech provided, which included a subpoena that Welch signed on Jan. 3 indicating that he knew the trial was set for Jan. 12.

Welch was suspended from the sheriff’s department at the time of the court date, but no reason was given by the JCSD, citing privacy laws concerning personnel issues. It’s not unusual for officers who have moved on to other departments or have been fired to come back and testify in cases, sources with knowledge of court proceedings said. Welch is a certified polygraph examiner for the LPD and he administered the lie-detector test to Burroughs.