Late one afternoon during the fourth week of May, 2016, Danielle, a La Vergne/Smyrna-area woman, was speaking to a clerk at the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in the Rutherford County Judicial Building on the Square when she learned there was a warrant out for her arrest for failing to appear to a court date five years prior. Danielle appeared to go through a momentary episode of shock and disbelief because of the news, eventually falling back on a chair during a tearful stream of frantic questions. Mary, another clerk from the back of the office with an air of seniority, intervened with a cup of comfort/water and clarified Danielle had no encounters with a law enforcement officer during the last five years. After that, Mary told Danielle to wait in the chair for a moment and left the clerk’s office. Within a couple of minutes, Mary returned and told Danielle that the warrant was just deactivated and removed from her record. Once managing to finish the business she had been there to do, Danielle, still shaken, left the clerk’s office wiping her eyes.
In the Rutherford County judicial building on the square, a capias, or arrest warrant, for nonappearance is issued by the presiding judge of a defendant’s case once the defendant’s name is called once or twice from the judge’s daily court docket to no response from the defendant. The judge’s decision is then written on the case information and sent through the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, where the appropriate paperwork is applied, then on to The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office’s Warrant Division where warrants are noted on the defendant’s record to be seen by law enforcement, officially activating them.
Once the warrants are activated, they are kept forever until they are issued, according to the Public Information Officer for the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Lisa Marchesoni.
On Oct. 3, 2013, during the third of eight court dates for a May 2013 DUI/Violation of Implied Consent Law case, a capias was applied to my case information for nonappearance, like Danielle. The Sheriff’s office received the judge’s decision the following Monday, Oct. 7, as the capias paperwork sent to the Sheriff’s office is stamped “Received-Civil 2013 OCT 7 AM 8:57 RUTHERFORD COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE.”
Then I received a “ONE TIME OPPORTUNITY TO AVOID BEING ARRESTED BY A SHERIFF’S DEPUTY OR OTHER LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL” service letter, dated Oct. 4, 2013, mailed on Monday, Oct. 14, that notified me a warrant for my arrest had been issued. I had 24 hours from the date on the notification (Oct. 4) to turn myself in or they’d come to my work or home and apprehend me. About 170 hours had passed before the mail service notification was in my hand; all the while the warrant had been active.
An immediate dead-sprint to the judicial building later, Judge Ben Hall McFarlin and his deputy Judge’s assistant at the time, Jake Flatt, told me to go to the jail. Afterwards, I called the bondsman who posted my bail in May 2013. Bond agent Monte Smith of Chris Highers’ Bail Bonds met me at 940 the following morning, had me in and out of the booking division in 20 minutes, and charged me $1,000, as I then found out the DUI charge and the Violation of Implied Consent charge were not concurrent, or treated as one case, as they had been in court and would be in probation. Smith did not comment on that matter besides allowing me to pay the second $500 bond in installments. Nonappearance is not a separate or new charge added to a defendant’s case(s).
There have been four warrants total issued for my arrest while residing in Murfreesboro.
To preface two of those warrants, I was placed on probation in 2014 twice at the same time. The DUI/Implied Consent cases had two separate but consecutive case numbers (***647 and ***648), and were considered concurrent in one probationary period. I was also put on probation for an unrelated and separate case for Driving on a Suspended License later in the year. I was juggled between three probation officers, seemingly due to in-house employee issues and because of the separate but simultaneous charges running through PCC, leading up to the end of June 2014, when I ceased to report.
For both of the cases, Affidavits of Complaint for Violation of Probation (VOP) were issued and made into arrest warrants. First, for the DUI/Implied Consent case on May 2, 2014, was signed by the second probation officer for that case, Megan Newman, who preceded Alyssa Costa. Costa was the first probation officer for the case that mandated a urinalysis on April 15, 2014, that resulted positive for cannabinoids (the illicit and active ingredient of marijuana) by Alere Toxicology Services, Inc. The other Affidavit of Complaint for VOP for the Driving on Suspended License case was signed by my third probation officer (first for Suspended License case), Tiarra Smith, on August 4, 2014, for failing to report (though she is listed on the payment receipts as my probation officer during June 2014 for the DUI/Implied Consent case). I met Smith for the first time in April 2016 as she managed my VOP cases during supervised probation (report to her in person until all fines, fees, and court costs are paid) with PCC’s replacement, the Rutherford County Department of Probation and Recovery Services, through November 2016. Both Affidavits of Complaint for VOP also listed “failed to pay all court costs, fines, and probation fees as directed,” as a violating determinate. Those warrants cost $106 each to issue.
After the April 2014 urinalysis administered by Alyssa Costa, I was informed by previous probation officer Megan Newman on May 13, 2014, that my DIU/Implied Consent case VOP warrant had been activated on May 2, 2014. I had about a month’s time before Rutherford County law enforcement would arrive at my house or place of business to arrest me. All I had to do then was turn myself in to 940, bond out, get a new court date, and start everything over again with the new VOP charge added to the cases and the warrant would deactivate, Newman stated.
I did not do that.
By this time, my driving status had been revoked not only by the state of Tennessee, but as a delivery driver at a local Domino’s Pizza where I was employed, removing tips as a form of income, but with the help of a manager and friend there, I became one of several other in-store managers earning minimum wage.
While still reporting for the DUI/Implied Consent case after the warrant was activated, the Driving on Suspended License probationary period began once it was settled in court on June 10, 2014. On that date, I informed the courts and PCC I was already on probation, but I arrived at PCC at 11:45 a.m. sharp on June 20, 2014, nonetheless, for their orientation meeting/first report date for all incoming probationers that month without the mandatory $146 orientation fee ($46 for PCC, $100 for court costs) to not only a full waiting room, but to a packed lobby of about 20 folks being turned away by PCC’s secretary, Kim McCollum, who sternly told everyone in that lobby they were late and to get out of the building, with no further instructions given. McCollum is also the secretary for PCC’s replacement, the Rutherford County Department of Probation and Recovery Services.
The next week, on June 24, 2014, I reported as scheduled and paid what I could ($50) to Megan Newman, who told me at that meeting the next time I showed up, she would have me arrested there and taken to jail. I did not go back.
Without realizing it then, I stepped out of the PCC building that day and into an abyss of people sought by Rutherford County law enforcement, where I remained until March 24, 2016.
It was a dark time, and becoming a part of the abyss, for myself, was a rapidly serious delinquency and a slow, gradual deterioration of character over the course of 19 months, all due to stress, shame and fear that advanced despite being numbed through self-medication. I drank vodka almost every day to cope with such a failure. I stopped working as a manager at Domino’s, eventually burdening a roommate with the bills of an apartment; seldom chipping in on a fraction of the utility bills with money I’d made selling plasma at a local plasma donation clinic. On the outside, I was jovially defensive in character, riding a bicycle or walking around town to run errands drunk, increasingly disappointed and paranoid on the inside. I passed out on the couch next to the front windows of my apartment every night so I could see when the police rolled up, because I wanted to see it coming.
Four or five months passed, then another one, and I had found that routine-to-cope had set in at the cost of my right-minded self’s comparative sanity. I existed as an emotional disaster in such a chaotic uncertainty, mostly keeping to myself, wandering through Rutherford County.
At about 8 p.m. on a November night in 2014, I looked out my window to see police cruisers and an undercover police car parked across Lytle Street, in front of my house. My heart dropped, my pulse raced, my pupils dilated, a “holy shit” was spoken and adrenaline flowed. I army-crawled through the apartment to the living room windows to get a better view and let their presence sink in for about 20 seconds until I shook my head, got up to get a cigarette off of the kitchen table, and walked down to the front porch. One of the police officers standing beside his cruiser was looking over at me while another was in a neighbor’s yard across the street quietly talking with the neighbor for a moment right after he pulled into his driveway. And I sat on the porch, smoking a cigarette in front of them, waiting for them to call my name, come into the yard after I reply, arrest me, and take me to jail for 11 months and 29 days.
The police finished talking with the neighbor, then with one another beside their cars, looked at my house for a second, got back in their cars, and drove away.
When they were gone, I stepped out into the yard, looked up and noticed there was no street address number on the house in which I reside, and shook my head again in an onslaught of shame, fear, stress and disbelief.
At the beginning of 2016, The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department reported there were approximately 28,000 outstanding arrest warrants active in the county whose total population is 262,604 people, according to the US Census Board 2016 numbers.
If all of those active arrest warrants that have accumulated over the years were active for persons currently residing within the county, the number of people wanted by local law enforcement would make up 10.7 percent of the total county population.
As of Jan. 31, 2017, there are 30,180 active criminal warrants, according to Lisa Marchesoni, as the percentage of warrants per capita—an abyss full of citizenry wanted by local law enforcement officers—rose to approximately 11.5 percent within the last year.
I was one of those people.