A Newton County Sheriff's deputy and sergeant have been terminated following an internal investigation into allegations they mishandled a situation on Lower River Road were a couple who was trying to change the locks on their new home were held at gunpoint by neighbors, then arrested by authorities.
For 10 minutes First Jean-Joseph, 61, and Angelica Kalonji, 57, were held at gunpoint by their new neighbors, Robert George Canoles, 45, and his son Branden Ryan Canoles, 18. Then the couple was confronted by deputies from the Newton County Sheriff's Office, who in spite of the couple's protests that they had just purchased the home, arrested them and locked them in the Newton County Detention Center. The Kalonji family had just purchased the home earlier that day and went over to change the locks when they were confronted by the Canoles. The two men thought the couple were breaking into the home so they held the Kalonjis at gunpoint and called the Newton County Sheriff's Office, according to media reports.
First Lt. Mark Mitchell said deputies responded to a call around 9:15 p.m. about a "burglary in progress" and when officers arrived they found the couple and the two men with firearms. Deputies then asked the couple for documentation to prove they had purchased the house, which the couple was unable to provide. The couple was arrested for loitering and prowling and detained by NSCO until further investigation proved the couple did indeed purchase the home. The neighbors who allegedly prevented the Kalonjis from entering their home at gunpoint were eventually charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass.
About a week later the two families met and made peace, but the internal investigation into the actions of the law enforcement officials who first arrived at the scene continued until Wednesday morning when it was announced that two people had been terminated from the NCSO following the investigation.
Sergeant Kenneth Kent was accused by the Kalonjis of unsatisfactory performance and failure to supervise because he was present when the couple was arrested and because their pleas to contact their son who could bring paperwork confirming the ownership of the home fell on deaf ears. Also accused of unsatisfactory performance was Deputy Darrell Odom, the first to arrive at the scene.
Additionally that on April 20 at 2 a.m. the Kalonjis son brought the paperwork to the NCSO and presented it to Kent and Odom, yet the couple was not released and stayed in jail until 3:13 a.m. when they paid a bail bondsman to bond them out.
According to accusations by the Kalonjis, when they told Kent and Odom they could have the paperwork in 45 minutes (which is how long it would take their son to drive from Stone Mountain) they told them they could not wait that long.
"Sgt. Kent said he decided to let the charges [of loitering and prowling against the Kalonjis] stand, to let the Kalonjis bond out, to turn the case over to CID [Criminal Investigation Division] and in the morning CID could review the case, follow up and drop the charges if necessary."
Both Kent and Odom were suspended with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation April 24.
When interviewed about the incident both Kent and Odom were cooperative according to reports. Kent said he felt justified in charging the Kalonjis with loitering and prowling after reading section A but said he did not focus on second B of the law. He admitted to saying they could not wait 45 minutes before taking the couple to jail because that would cause calls to start backing up.
Although internal investigations stated they believed Kent and Odom had every reason to be suspicious of the circumstance since the Kalonjis were working by flashlight on the door of a previously vacant home where the power was off late at night.
However, the elements of section B of the law were not proven. The couple did not try to conceal themselves or any object, they parked their car in plain view, the house was empty, so there was no indication they were there to steal anything and they were installing a lock on the door, they explained the situation to law enforcement without any problem and provided them with their information.
"There was no exigent circumstance that required immediate action," reads the report. "...The case could have been documented and followed up on later by CID."
The findings also say that Kent "failed to understand the applicable law, failed to ensure that the elements of the crime were met and that the law was being applied correctly and acted more in the capacity of a co-worker then that of a supervisor. Sgt. Kent failed to release the Kalonjis when it became apparent they committed no crime." The findings were similar for Odom.
After a meeting of the internal investigation board both Kent and Odom were terminated.