By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
quietly dropped charges this spring against Phillip Brown, the Sand Mountain
businessman who was to have stood trial in October for child molestation.
Brown, 48, who
along with his dad operates Brown Tire Service on Highway 301, was arrested in
May 2012. In January of this year, a
grand jury returned a true bill against him, charging that he had committed an
“immoral and indecent act” against a minor child and going on to spell out an
incidence of inappropriate touching “on or before April 20, 2012.” His trial was set for this April in Dade
County Superior Court, then postponed until the court’s fall session.
But in between
those times, on May 10, Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor of the Lookout
Mountain Judicial Circuit signed a nolle prossed, or dismissal, of the case,
giving as his reason: “Based upon what is in the best interest of the alleged
child victim as expressed by his mother and psychologist, and upon the
termination of the defendant’s parental rights concerning said child.”
does not name victims of alleged sex crimes. But Brown, who on Friday said he
was anxious for a chance to clear his name, said the charges had come about
because of friction between himself and the child’s mother, his ex-wife.
“This is a
divorce situation,” he said by phone on Friday. “She wanted full custody and
that’s all it boils down to.”
had filed for divorce in January 2011.
older children from a previous marriage, who lived with the couple during their
marriage, continue to depend on him now, he said, and it was on their behalf
that he agreed to cede parental rights to their half-sibling rather than stand
trial and run the risk of going to prison.
“I had to sign
my rights away in order to get them off my back,” he said. “I didn’t want to do
Brown says the
decision still torments him. “Every day I feel guilty,” he said. “But I didn’t
know what else to do.”
arrest last year, Brown took out an advertisement in this newspaper proclaiming
his innocence, and he continues to proclaim it now. “Anybody who knows me knows
I wouldn’t do that,” he said.
But Len Gregor
of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, the prosecution team Dade shares with
the surrounding counties of Walker, Catoosa and Chattooga, said – also by phone
on Friday – that the prosecution had given up its day in court only for the
reasons cited on the court papers.
“This was a
dismissal due purely to the well-being of the child,” said Gregor. “This child
really didn’t need to be put through a trial.”
He said that
his office found dismissals of this kind difficult and had agreed to drop
charges only with the stipulation Brown would have no further access to the
alleged victim. “That had to happen first before we would dismiss the case,” he
Mountain Judicial Circuit, headed by District Attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin,
has prosecuted its share of controversial child molestation cases.
Franklin, Gregor and crew brought Tonya Craft, a young Chickamauga elementary
schoolteacher, to trial, accusing her of molesting three young girls, one of
them her own child. Ms. Craft, like Brown, was embroiled in a bitter
divorce/custody struggle, which had figured in the accusations.
The Craft case
attracted widespread and indignant public attention, making national headlines
and talk show fodder, with bloggers and writers of letters to the editor
accusing the prosecutors and defending the accused. That loud public voice was
vindicated when, on May 11, 2010, a Catoosa County jury acquitted Ms. Craft of
all 22 molestation counts LMJC had brought against her.
the prosecution team made another set of headlines with the case of a
64-year-old man substitute teaching in a Ringgold elementary school. The man, a
24-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, had been substituting for the first time
on Feb. 4, 2010, and had been sent home before lunch, but LMJC said he’d had
time to touch improperly three fifth-grade boys, and brought four counts of
molestation against him.
The accused man
protested his innocence, and according to contemporaneous newspaper reports, contacted
Ms. Craft’s attorney for advice. But in March 2012, he accepted an offer to
plead guilty to lesser, nonsexual charges and serve a six-year sentence on
probation, after which his record would be expunged since this was a first
teacher maintained, though, that he’d been falsely accused and had accepted the
plea bargain only to avoid the chance of going to trial and being falsely