Judge's family sentenced in 2008 fracas

COVINGTON -- Special Prosecutor Fred Bright announced Monday that all defendants who were charged in 2008 in connection with a disturbance involving the family of Juvenile Court Judge Sheri Roberts have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced.

Facing state charges in connection with the Dec. 29, 2008, incident were James Kevin Cruikshank, the judge's brother-in-law; GiGi Cruikshank, the judge's sister; and Matthew Hill Roberts, the judge's husband.

The judge's mother, Peggy Capes, 62, of 7200 Charter on Flat Rock, was initially charged under a city of Covington ordinance with public drunkenness, but on May 20, 2009, was allowed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct in Covington Municipal Court and pay a $287 fine, according to court records.

Because of the other defendants' relationship with the judge, their cases were transferred to the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit and were ultimately heard by a judge in Athens.

The 2008 incident began a little after midnight when a neighbor notified 911 about a disturbance at 7121 Crestview Drive. Covington Police Department officers arrived to find the three defendants uncooperative.

"There was a lot of cussing going on, alcohol, foul language, officers trying to calm everybody down," Bright said. "There was a neighbor who called it in for what he thought was a family fight. The officers have a duty to check it out."

Initially, James Kevin Cruikshank was charged with felony obstruction of a police officer, but Bright said through Covington defense attorney Steve Hathorn, a plea agreement was reached in which some charges were merged and all charges in connection with the incident were reduced to misdemeanors.

"Everybody pleaded guilty as charged and everybody qualified as first offender. To qualify for first offender, you must have no prior felony record and you can only use it once in your life," Bright said, adding that the only person who had a prior arrest record was Mr. Cruikshank, who had been convicted of DUI in 1983 and 1989, both times pleading nolo contendere, meaning he declined to dispute or admit the charges.

Charges and sentences handed down by Judge Lawton Stephens of the Western Judicial Circuit were as follows:

* James Kevin Cruikshank, 44, of 7121 Crestview Drive, was charged with two counts of obstruction of a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct which resulted from his "resisting arrest and unlawfully acting in a violent or tumultuous manner." He received 36 months probation and a fine of $1,000.

* GiGi Lynn Cruikshank, 45, of 7121 Crestview Drive, was charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct for "unlawfully acting in a violent and in a tumultuous manner toward another person and intervening in officers' attempts to handcuff James Cruikshank." She was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $500 fine.

* Matthew Hill Roberts, 31, of 7200 Charter on Flat Rock was charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct for "unlawfully acting in a violent or tumultuous manner by resisting arrest." He received 12 months probation and a $500 fine.

Bright said the pleas were negotiated with input from the Covington Police Department.

"I went to Newton County on Wednesday, July 22 ... we went to the Covington Police Department and sat down with Police Chief Stacey Cotton and the officers involved in this case," Bright said. "We talked about the case, and the plea had their blessing. Chief Cotton said he was fine with it and so were the officers. They were all satisfied. We wanted to hold the defendants accountable for what they did."

Bright, the district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, was assigned the case by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker after Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne recused himself "since we prosecute juvenile delinquency cases before Judge Roberts." Bright received the appointment on Jan. 22, 2009.

Bright said Alcovy Circuit Superior Court judges also recused themselves as they were responsible for Judge Roberts' appointment and did not want to give the appearance of impropriety.

Judge John Ott signed the order on Dec. 18, 2009, stating the local judges could not hear the case. The Alcovy Circuit is part of the 10th Judicial Administrative District, and Administrative Judge Stephens, chief judge of the Western Judicial Circuit including Athens-Clark County, appointed himself to hear the case on Dec. 21. Arrangements were made for the pleas to be taken in Athens on Jan. 8.

"I think justice was served in this case and we're happy that it is over with. I think it was a fair and appropriate outcome for what the three defendants did that night," Bright said.

The CPD report filed at the time of the incident stated that officers responded to 7121 Crestview Drive to find "beer cans strewn around the front yard." No one answered the knocking at the front door, but officers saw Roberts exit through the garage door and observed him to be "very intoxicated." He admitted to officers that there had been a verbal altercation between him and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, but said "everything is fine."

Officers said minutes later a woman exited the residence holding a telephone and when officers attempted to ask her what had happened, she ignored them and continued talking on the telephone. "When speaking with the female, I noticed Mr. Roberts signaled something to the female, seemingly telling her not to say anything," the report stated.

Officers asked the woman, later identified as GiGi Cruikshank, to go inside the residence so they could speak with her further, but the report indicated she was reluctant to answer questions.

In the meantime, the report stated Roberts began to use "foul language and refused to cooperate with officers' orders." When officers attempted to handcuff him, the report stated he became "combative, by flailing ... his hands and continued to use foul language." He was eventually placed in the back of a patrol vehicle.

Officers persisted in speaking with Mrs. Cruikshank, but she refused to tell them where her husband was. Another officer began searching the house and found James Kevin Cruikshank in a back bedroom. The report described his behavior as "very aggressive and combative."

When officers attempted to arrest Cruikshank, he became more irate and began fighting, requiring the use of a Taser on him, as well as physical blows, before he could be placed in handcuffs, the report stated. While officers were attempting to handcuff him, Mrs. Cruikshank tried to intervene, and despite repeated warnings, she persisted and was placed under arrest, as well, according to the report.

Mr. Cruikshank was ultimately Tasered a second time after he had been removed from the patrol unit for medical personnel to check him and then refused to get back into the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Capes, the mother of Mrs. Cruikshank and Judge Roberts, arrived on the scene and, according to the incident report, "exited her vehicle and approached officers in an aggressive manner. She was redirected several times to return to her vehicle; however, she refused." She was also placed under arrest.