CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Andy Bloch walked into the Clayton County Courthouse on April 25, expecting to see a young man his neighbors knew all too well: the one who’d broken into his townhome and vandalized the property four months earlier.
Kobe Jones awaited the landlord’s arrival, too, but Jones didn’t want to see Bloch in the courtroom.
The 21-year-old asked his new attorney to let Bloch back into the holding cell ahead of their scheduled hearing.
What happened next led to a Channel 2 investigation into the power of a citizen’s arrest warrant.
“I said, ‘Judge, would you mind if I talked to the victim, and the victim is willing to go back and view my guy?” recalled Jones’s attorney, James Studdard.
“So we go back there and Kobe’s in a group with a bunch of guys in the holding cell back there packed in, and I asked Kobe to raise his hand and he did, and I said, 'Now stand up Kobe,' and he stood up, and I said, 'How ‘bout it?," Studdard remembered, mocking his turn to Bloch.
“And he (Bloch) said, ‘No sir, that is not him. Not him.'”
“I don’t see him, he’s not here. Wrong person,” Jones said, remembering the moment he locked eyes with Bloch.
Magistrate Court Judge William West quickly dismissed the arrest warrants and that hearing, but until now, no one involved could explain how the young Atlanta barber ended up behind bars for nearly a month for a crime he did not commit.
No one believed he was the wrong Kobe Jones.
Call for help
On the evening of April 4, Kobe Jones was invited to dinner in Southwest Atlanta by a friend. Instead of receiving a meal, he ended up being attacked.
“They pulled guns out and told me to sit down,” Jones told an Atlanta police officer in body camera video obtained through an open records request.
As police officers documented the armed robbery in an incident report, they made another standard move—they ran Jones’ license.
By the end of the video, Jones was being put into the back of an APD car and booked in the Atlanta City Jail.
His license information matched that of a wanted Kobe Jones out of Clayton County. He was facing felony burglary, theft by taking and misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges.
"They said I broke into somebody's house, I put bleach on the floor, I stole a power screw. I stole a power screw drill," Jones told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr. "I cut hair, you know? What am I going to do with a power drill?"
Hours later, records show Jones was denied bond in Clayton County, where he was transferred to the jail to await a hearing.
Jones’ charges stemmed from Andy Bloch’s call to police four months earlier.
“Uh, we had a break-in,” Bloch told a Clayton County police officer who responded to his 911 call at a townhome complex he owns. “Fortunately one of the tenants saw the person and can also identify the person, and they vandalized the unit.”
“His name is Kobe Jones,” Tina Snowden told Carr.
Snowden was also seen in the Dec. 5 police body camera videos, telling the police about her daughter’s high school classmate and his friends, whom she said she caught red-handed in Bloch’s unit.
“The lady that stayed right beside her, Vanessa, her son Kobe was in there with several other little boys,” Jones told everyone on the scene. “And I said, 'What are you all doing in there? Is your mama moving back here?'"
Bloch and Snowden explained the boy’s mother, Vanessa Jones (also known as Vanessa George) was recently evicted.
“Maybe it helps finding where Kobe is these days," Bloch told the officer. “I would imagine he lives with his mom if he’s still a juvenile.”
“I’m going to include all information,” the officer assured Bloch as he filled out an incident report.
Bloch offered police Vanessa’s vehicle description, tag number and two forwarding addresses to include on a police report for her teenage son.
But it didn’t sound like police would be after the boy known as Kobe Jones. Or maybe it was Kobe George. Both names were noted in the records for safety's sake as the officer explained to Bloch the process of juvenile justice.
“When it comes to juveniles, our hands are tied. We can only petition the courts once we get probable cause,” the officer said, assuring Bloch that the paint vandalism was likely the work of juveniles, just like Snowden said.
Citizen’s arrest warrant and a suicide attempt
In the following weeks, according to his wife and attorney Michelle Bloch, Andy Bloch sought to have the culprit arrested on his own.
He was turned away from the Clayton County Clerk’s Office when he tried to submit an arrest warrant containing known contact information for the suspected Kobe Jones’ mother, his former tenant, because he needed a birthday for the suspect.
Bloch got the birthday and added a third address to the new warrant application. It was for the only Kobe Jones he could find—in an online people search.
Channel 2 Action News took that Kobe Jones' interview video to Tina Snowden, the witness to the vandalism.
“Who's that?” Carr asked Snowden.
“I don't know, but that's not Kobe,” she said. “That's not the Kobe that lived by me. That's not him.”
That Kobe Jones, the wrong Kobe Jones, is our Kobe Jones, and he is at least five years older than the one Snowden described for police.
According to West, who oversaw the warrant application hearing and eventually the dismissal, a notice of the arrest warrant would have been sent to the 21-year-old Kobe Jones via the U.S. Postal Service.
But an unsuspecting Jones was actually in Atlanta. He had been studying for a barber school exam the day Bloch’s home was vandalized, and he said he never received a notice at his Grandmother’s Jonesboro home, where lived as a child.
So he didn’t show up to a January hearing to defend himself against what Snowden saw with her own eyes and what Bloch documented on a warrant application.
And Jones couldn’t defend himself to police, who had a verified warrant, or to his father, who wouldn’t take his jailhouse calls.
The only person who believed him was his grandmother, who hired Studdard –the attorney who would bring everyone together in a holding cell and lead to Bloch’s realization that the wrong boy had been arrested.
Before that moment, Jones said he was so depressed, he tried to hang himself in the Clayton County jail.
“At the time I was, like, suicidal,” he told Carr, pointing to his head with his fingers shaped like a gun.
Different jurisdictions, different rules
The Blochs, who expressed concern over Jones’ arrest in court and when Carr contacted them during the research for the story, initially declined to comment on the case. Michelle Bloch cited their attempt to file a new warrant in the ongoing ordeal.
That was before Carr discovered it was the warrant information that led to the wrongful arrest, rather than a mistake of the courts or law enforcement.
Michelle Bloch confirmed Andy Bloch’s use of the people search last week, saying he never knew the exact age of the suspect, but she did not return requests to go on the record and explain how the 1997 birth date seemed like a reasonable inclusion for Bloch’s new warrant application, given the documents describing a juvenile suspect and former tenant.
"This is a nightmare,” said legal analyst Esther Panitch. “Though law enforcement has their challenges, they are set up to try to avoid these kinds of errors that citizens can easily make."
A look at the warrant applications from Clayton and Fulton counties show varying responsibility for the citizens filling out these applications in Georgia.
In Clayton County, it does not appear Bloch could be held criminally responsible for including the wrong information on the application he signed. That application only requires the applicant to promise he or she is not under the influence, understands they cannot dismiss the warrant and if the warrant is dismissed by the court, the applicant understands they are the responsible party.
In Fulton County, the applicant swears to the truth on an arrest warrant.
“I understand there are pros to having citizens accessible to the magistrate court,” Panitch said. “However, there’s so much abuse that can happen and we are seeing an example of that right now."
Most states do not allow private citizens to initiate criminal prosecution, but a recent University of North Carolina School of Government survey found North Carolina and Georgia to be among the exceptions for the same reasons.
Here in Georgia, a warrant application hearing allows the accused to argue against the charges weeks after a summons is mailed to the potential defendant’s address.
That was useless to Jones, who says he never received the snail mail notice at his grandmother’s home.
In South Carolina, only a summons may be issued, not an arrest warrant, in response to a private citizen’s arrest.
Limited circumstances in Maryland result in a summons leading to an arrest warrant. Virginia allows for private citizen complaints in writing, but in Pennsylvania, that complaint must go through a prosecutor before a warrant can be issued.
In New Hampshire, only minor offenses can be initiated and prosecuted by a citizen’s complaint.
Jones, who welcomed a child with his girlfriend Friday, said he is ready to move on but the Channel 2 investigation revealed answers to many of his questions. The young Kobe's mother did not return messages left by Channel 2 Action News regarding the case.
The “wrong” Kobe Jones is considering civil action in the case.
“This brings some closure,” he told Carr. “But it’s not right."
Cox Media Group