Judge denies bond to man charged with stalking coroner

The alleged incident is the latest in a string of controversy tied to the county coroner.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. — A Douglas County magistrate judge denied bond to a man charged with stalking the county coroner, violating a temporary protective order filed against him last year.

The alleged incident is the latest in a string of controversy tied to the county coroner, Renee Godwin, who’s recently received threatening phone messages by her predecessor and prevailed in a county-led investigation into alleged mismanagement.

Larry Pierce, 77, is facing an aggravated stalking charged for an alleged incident on March 5, involving Godwin. According to court documents read during a bond hearing Thursday morning, Pierce is accused of slowly driving past and around the parking area of the coroner’s office earlier this month, coming within 61 feet of Godwin. The latter violates the terms of a restraining order filed against him last spring. The order was set to expire hours after the alleged incident.

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Pierce, a well-known and outspoken opponent of Godwin’s, turned himself in some time Wednesday. He appeared in magistrate Judge Barbara Caldwell’s courtroom via video teleconference early Thursday morning.

“I’ve never been involved in anything like this,” Pierce said. “It’s been a difficult 24 hours for a 70 year old…77-year-old… man like this.”

“There was no intent.” Pierce continued. “I didn’t surveill. I didn’t do any such thing there. This mess is over, the other stuff. I thought it was.”

Pierce went on to offer a lengthy explanation that he’d been out that day to figure out where Republicans and Democrats were qualifying for the upcoming election.

“Well ma’am, I thought it was after hours, even not thinking. The vehicle that she drives for the county wasn’t there so I just made the turn to go up by the bistro," Pierce said.

“Okay, but why would you have known the vehicle?” Caldwell asked before Pierce said you can’t miss the large van that Godwin drives.

He then told a story about Godwin parking next to him somewhere in the county over the summer.

“I was being provoked at that time. But this time, I wasn’t trying to do anything,” Pierce said.

“Oh, she was provoking you?” Judge Caldwell asked. “But you are the one who has a temporary restraining order.”

“Yes ma’am, I had… but I was also told by legal authorities that if she ever came around me for no reason whatsoever… looking and not pointing or anything, not only let them know, but make a report,” Pierce answered. So I went to Sheriff’s Dept three times.”

Caldwell ended the hearing a short time later, referring Pierce to a Superior Court judge for any possible bond arrangements.

“Now I’m going to deny your bond and I suggest that you talk to your attorney so that you can get a better understanding of what the TPO means,” Judge Barbara Caldwell said.

Outside of court, Godwin spoke about the incident for the first time. She was accompanied to court by a colleague, a deputy coroner who said he’d photographed Pierce outside Godwin’s office.

“Now I don’t have to constantly look over my shoulder cause this man has made my life a living hell,” Godwin said.

“He’s been harassing me for the last three years, so I had no idea what he might do,” Godwin said, noting she believed Pierce had filed more than a 100 open records requests on her over the past several years.

“Why do you think this is happening with you?” asked Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.

“Because I’m the first African-American female in Douglas County to be coroner and Randy (Daniel) had sat in that position for so long. And me coming and winning the election—I think that has a lot to do with it.”

The hearing followed a March 2 appearance by Pierce before the county board of commissioners where he spoke during public comments. He alluded to the restraining order before making a presentation on rocket science.

“I’m off of my stalking charge, which didn’t effect a lot of things anyways,” he told the board, three days before the end of the restraining order.

“I can move forward,” Godwin said after the bond hearing, alongside one of her colleagues, a deputy coroner. “This is behind me. The only thing left now is the court date.”

Late Thursday afternoon Godwin and her attorney told Carr that an assistant district attorney called and said Pierce would be granted a $5,000 bond.

It’s unclear whether he had another hearing on the matter the same day he was denied bond.

CONTROVERSY OVER THREE YEARS

Over the past year Channel 2 has reported on complaints and a grand jury investigation into Godwin. It ended with a recommendation to remove her from office, and an accusation of fiscal management. It also cited she’d admitted to a lack of managerial experience prior to taking office.

It failed to prove Godwin had orchestrated operational mismanagement, including misreporting death cases, and the process was blasted by the Douglas county attorney as a character attack against a county official, rather than a warranted proceeding.

Late last year, a state training board overseeing county coroner’s refused to recommend removing Godwin from office, saying the grand jury issues presented fell outside of their jurisdiction or appeared to be “local issues.”

Godwin defeated longtime county coroner Randy Daniel in the 2016 election.

Last month, Daniel told Carr that he did not intend for threatening phone messages to be interpreted as a threat of physical harm when he left scathing voicemails for Godwin in December.

The messages were left on a county landline. A month earlier, Godwin requested a county audit of several years of operations under Daniel’s leadership.

Godwin is running for re-election this year.