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Criminal warrants served on Stuart; employment terminated

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — Following a hearing on April 9, Colquitt County State Court Judge Richard Kent ruled that the criminal charges are warranted against Sumter County Sheriff’s Maj. Ralph Stuart. The warrants were signed by Sumter County Chief Magistrate Connie Johnson on Tuesday morning, and Stuart was served. He had been on paid leave since the hearing.
Sumter County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Col. Eric Bryant told the Times-Recorder that Stuart was arraigned Tuesday in Magistrate Court and bond was set at $1,000 on each count: simple battery and sexual battery, both misdemeanors. Bryant said Stuart posted a property bond and was released. He now awaits notification of a trial date from the Conflict District Attorney’s Office. Bryant also said Stuart’s employment with the sheriff’s office has been terminated.
Stuart, chief investigator for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, is accused of inappropriately touching two staff members of the Southwestern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Julie Moreau and Patrick Cromer, on Oct. 18, 2018, inside a courtroom at the Sumter County Courthouse.
Julius Collins of Atlanta and Albany represents Moreau and Cromer while Jason Ferguson of Columbus represents Stuart. The April 9 hearing was presided over by Judge Richard Kent of Colquitt County, a state court judge in that county. The three Southwestern Judicial Circuit superior court judges recused themselves from the hearing.
In background, Moreau and Cromer complained to their employer, District Attorney Lewis Lamb, on Oct. 19 that Stuart had inappropriately touched them while in the courtroom on Oct, 18, 2918. Cromer said that Stuart slapped him on his left buttock, while Moreau claims that Stuart repeatedly touched her hair and neck even while she attempted repeatedly to bat him away.
Lamb took the complaints to the sheriff on Oct. 22 and Col. Bryant started an investigation. The Times-Recorder reviewed the case file, including the video, under the Georgia Open Meetings and Records Act.
Following the investigation, the sheriff’s office determined that Stuart’s behavior was a violation of the department’s Code of Conduct and deemed his actions “unbecoming.” Stuart was placed on two weeks’ suspension without pay. He was also placed on three months’ probation and required to attend a training class related to professionalism.
District Attorney Lamb told the Times-Recorder at that time that his office has a conflict of interest in the case and couldn’t investigate the incidents in the courtroom or decide whether or not to prosecute Stuart.
Collins called six witness at Tuesday’s hearing, most of whom were shown a video of the Moreau and Cromer incidents. Courtroom security cameras routinely capture everything that goes on the courtroom, even during recesses, which is when the incidents in question occurred.