Accusations of misconduct against Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton have been investigated and found to be without merit, according to a release from Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne.
The charges against Cotton stemmed from an incident on the evening of Aug. 8 between him and 31-year-old Kevin James Wyatt. Wyatt is currently on probation from an incident in 2003 when he was convicted of burglary and unlawful eavesdropping after reportedly installing video equipment in the home of Cotton’s current girlfriend.
On the night of Aug. 8, Cotton reportedly detained Wyatt outside of Covington’s city limits (his jurisdiction) and, according to Wyatt’s family, placed him in handcuffs and choked him. They say Wyatt was then taken to the CPD and questioned before being charged with aggravated stalking and transferred to the Newton County Detention Center.In a letter from Wyatt’s wife, she claims he left his parent’s home on Elk’s Club Road and went down Dixie Road on the way to Jackson Lake, passing in front of the home of Cotton’s girlfriend, then changed his mind about heading to the lake and decided to head home, driving past the woman’s home a second time — a direct violation of his probation which, according to Wynne, states that Wyatt should not be in the subdivision where she lives unless he is visiting his parents and is to have no contact — direct or indirect — with her for the remainder of his probation time, which is 13 years.
The Wyatt family contacted NCSO Sheriff Ezell Brown to voice their complaints against Cotton and both Brown and Cotton agreed that a formal review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation be done, since the GBI is considered a neutral party. The GBI conducted their investigation and gave their findings to Wynne.
"The complaint seems to center around two questions," reads a release from Wynne, "whether Chief Cotton was authorized to detain Mr. Wyatt outside the city limits of Covington and whether Chief Cotton assaulted Mr. Wyatt.
"After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding this case, I find that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that Chief Cotton acted within his authority as a peace officer in detaining Kevin Wyatt… I further find, based in part on the chief’s statements and Mr. Wyatt’s own statements, that Chief Cotton did not use excessive force during his encounter with Mr. Wyatt."
According to Georgia law, a law enforcement officer can make a warrantless arrest of a person if a crime is committed in that officer’s presence or "within his immediate knowledge," and this can be done outside the officer’s jurisdiction.
"In this case, Chief Cotton detained Mr. Wyatt after he had allegedly committed the offense of aggravated stalking in the chief’s presence or at least within his immediate knowledge… [Chief Cotton] was clearly authorized to detain Mr. Wyatt on the night in question.
"As to the assault, it is undisputed that Chief Cotton did place his hands on Mr. Wyatt. According to Chief Cotton, that was necessary to restrain Mr. Wyatt. By Mr. Wyatt’s own admission, Chief Cotton placed his hand on Mr. Wyatt’s throat but did not choke him. Mr. Wyatt further admitted that this lasted only about five seconds, did not cause him any pain and left no mark on him. Such force is not excessive."
According to Wynne, after a review of the evidence he found that Cotton was not in violation of the law.
"I take pride in conducting myself as a professional police officer at all times," said Cotton. "I did so in that case and the GBI and DA confirmed it. That is the reason that the sheriff and I asked the GBI to come in and look because that’s what I knew they would find."
Wyatt was denied bond and was in court on Thursday. His case, however, was continued until Judge Marvin Sorrells could confer with Judge Samuel Ozburn — who was originally scheduled to be on the bench — as to which one of them would hear the case.