A Savannah attorney says he’s heard of guilt by association but he claims he has a case of guilt by Facebook. It involves the arrest of Kari Neely, a young Savannah woman, in June of 2014. “There were a lot of police officers at my house that day,” Neely told me.
Her attorney, Joseph Turner of Savannah filed suit today against the city of Savannah and Chatham County, naming metro police and the Counter Narcotics Team. (CNT). Turner tells us he’s also given notice to the office of Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap that he plans to sue them as well. The suit says Neely was “falsely arrested” and “falsely imprisoned”.
Going back to that day a year and half ago. “I was getting ready for work when I heard a knock on the door,” Neely said. She had a two month old baby boy and she said her parents had taken the baby out of town. Why was she arrested? She claimed she didn’t know until hours after going to jail. Then she found out she was charged with being a party to a crime for alleged drug sales in connection with a case involving her boyfriend, Larry Gaddy. Gaddy had been arrested about four months earlier.
“I didn’t know if I was getting out or what was going to happen, it was scary,” Neely said of the two months she spent in jail.
According to an investigation report on her case, CNT believed Neely was a woman that had been taped by a confidential informant. That informant took the tape on January 21, 2014 while at Gaddy’s home where he allegedly bought drugs. The investigation report said “according to Facebook, Ms. Neely and Mr. Gaddy are boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“Facebook is the reason, that’s in their report. That’s exactly what they did is use Facebook, They had no other way to identify Kari,” said Joseph Turner, the attorney who took Neely’s case a few months after her arrest.
CNT said it could not comment on the arrest. While the report did refer to Facebook, it also referred to Chatham County Detention Center visitor logs which showed Neely had visited Gaddy in jail. Neely acknowledged she knew of Gaddy’s arrest and that she had visited him. And while she said she had dated Gaddy for five years and had his child, she denied any involved in alleged drug sales. “From the get go, I knew I had nothing to do with any of this,” she told me.
Turner said that drug agents used Facebook and jail logs and then rushed to judgment. He also believes a videotape taken on January 21, 2014 which was used by CNT to get an arrest warrant against his client, instead proves her innocence. “Compare the young lady on the video tape and the physical characteristics of Kari, there’s no resemblance,” said Turner. “If they had done any homework at all they would have known that.”
In viewing the tape, I saw the woman who I thought looked somewhat similar to Neely. However, she had a different hair color, different hair style and was wearing a lot more make up. But Turner says there’s a reason the woman couldn’t have been his client. He said at the time Neely was seven months pregnant. She gave birth on March 30, 2014, two months after the tape was made and two months before she was arrested.
“It is appalling what happened, what the officers in this case did which was a rush to arrest anyone they could possibly find,” said Turner.
Neely spent 66 days in jail before being bonded out. Turner claimed that’s because her case kept getting delayed. But the district attorney’s office says bail was not requested until at least one month after her arrest.
After getting out on bond, Neely’s case was dismissed on February 27 of this year due to “newly discovered evidence.”
Turner said that was the videotape which was ultimately viewed by an assistant district attorney. “This is something the police should not have done but even if they did, it should have been caught way (by the district attorney’s office ) way before six months after Neely bonded out.”
District Attorney Meg Heap and two of her assistants told me details they thought were important. They said despite assertions of mistaken identity, that the issue had never been officially brought up with them. They said it was not mentioned at a preliminary hearing held in late July of 2014. It should be noted that a public defender was in charge of the case at the time of the preliminary hearing. Turner took over the case two months after Neely was arrested. However, the district attorney’s office said it did not hear charges of mistaken identity from Turner either, until months later. Heap saying her office “would have been duty bound to check this out if we had been told we had the wrong person in custody.”
The D-A’s office also said in January of this year, that Turner indicated there may be a plea in the case. A court document from January 29, 2015 indicates Turner told a judge “I think this is going to be on a plea track.” Turner also indicated after that that he was “waiting on discovery”. The date for the plea was set for February 27.
Officials indicated to me their question of why Turner would have talked about a plea if he felt his client had been wrongly arrested?
Turner told us it was because he had not yet viewed the tape (he claims because the D.A.’s office had not given it to him. They say they gave it to him earlier and he reportedly misplaced it and asked for another copy.) Turner denied misplacing the tape, saying he has e-mails to prove it. Turner says when he did view the tape, his client indicated that it was not her.
Heap says at that point, they made an attempt to figure out what true. She said the investigation report had not indicated information about Neely’s pregnancy and they requested a copy of the birth certificate, which Turner provided. An assistant district attorney said he even went on Facebook himself in an attempt to compare pictures of Neely with the woman on the tape. In the end, whatever may have been believed about Neely’s guilt, it come down to what they could prove in court. Heap saying ” “based on the new information we felt we could not prove identity beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Neely told us “I knew it wasn’t me, kept telling everybody it wasn’t me, and now they know it’s really not.”
Turner’s suit seek to gain lost wages and damages although he claims it’s as much about the abuse of social media as financial gain.
Joseph Turner, Attorney “This is about lost time with her child that can never be replaced…my idea of what they should have done and looking out for the next man is really what’s led us here.”
Larry Gaddy pled guilty last June and is now serving two years in prison. Neely told me she is still on Facebook but “doesn’t associate with a lot of people she used to.”