Room 242 at a former Motel 6 in Brunswick, Ga., just off I-95, is where former Glynn County police officer Dennis Krauss sexually assaulted a domestic violence victim. Now the State Board of Pardons and Paroles has restored his right to possess guns. ALAN JUDD/ALANJUDD@AJC.COM
Photo: Alan Judd
Photo: Alan Judd

Georgia felons re-arm — with state’s blessing

Editor’s Note: Parts of this story contain graphic accounts from court testimony.

Even before he sexually assaulted a domestic-violence victim, before she said he tried to sodomize her with his police-issued pistol, Dennis Krauss was a bad cop.

His record was filled with allegations of misconduct: that he beat a prisoner so severely the man’s brain bled; that he threatened to fabricate charges against a suspect so he could sleep with the man’s wife; that he pressured at least 10 women for sex to avoid arrest. He supposedly called that offer “private community service.”

“He’s a predator,” said Susan Thornton, the prosecutor who sent Krauss to prison for sexual assault. “I don’t believe people like that ought to go out on the street with guns.”

And yet, Krauss has the right to do exactly that – with the state of Georgia’s blessing.

At a time when public debate over firearms laws often begins and ends at bad guys with guns versus good guys with guns, Georgia is muddying the waters by enabling record numbers of felons to legally re-arm themselves, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles restored the firearms rights of more than 1,400 felons between 2008 and 2013. Last year alone, the board granted 666 pardons that restored gun rights, a tenfold increase from six years earlier.

At the same time, the board has dramatically increased the proportion of gun-rights pardons going to violent offenders like Krauss, the Journal-Constitution found. In 2008, such offenders received 6 percent of all Georgia gun-rights pardons. By 2013, they accounted for 31 percent.

Of the 358 violent felons who regained their gun rights over the six years, 32 had killed another person and 166 were convicted of drug-related offenses. Forty-four committed sex crimes, including seven who are listed on the state’s sex offender registry.

All are free to buy, sell, own or carry firearms without restriction, as if their crimes had never happened.

Despite repeated requests, the parole board’s five members declined to be interviewed. They also directed staff members not to comment.

A board spokesman said members follow strict guidelines regarding gun-rights pardons. Felons must have completed their sentences and any probation or parole at least five years earlier. They cannot have been arrested for additional crimes. At least three people outside their families must attest to their rehabilitation. The pardons reinstate felons’ constitutional rights to bear arms without erasing their criminal records.

“So much investigative work goes into the case files,” said Steve Hayes, the board’s spokesman.

But the Journal-Constitution’s review of dozens of parole board cases, using court records, police reports and other public documents, calls into question the rigor of the board’s investigative protocol. It also suggests board members take into account little or no information available outside the narrow confines of their routine procedures.

In restoring Dennis Krauss’ gun rights, for instance, the board either didn’t know about or disregarded a history of violence that began long before the crime that sent him to prison. It apparently gave no weight to the allegations, contained in public records, that Krauss coerced sex from women and abused prisoners and other citizens. And the board seemingly took no note of Krauss’ prolonged anger toward the victim and others involved in his prosecution.

That information should have been key to the board’s decision, said Gary Robinette, a retired FBI agent from Cartersville who works as a consultant on police misconduct. Robinette was hired to examine Krauss’ record by the sexual-assault victim’s lawyer.

“He raped a woman – he may have raped a couple of women,” Robinette said in an interview. “He was very reckless and abusive with his firearm.”

“This guy,” Robinette said, “he’s going to kill somebody.”

Krauss served almost two years in prison for the sexual assault of the domestic-violence victim, even though a jury acquitted him of a more serious rape charge.

Now he lives in a house trailer in Brunswick and does construction work when he can find it. At age 57, he has gone through a couple of bankruptcies and a couple of marriages. He owns a shotgun, a rifle and at least two handguns.

In an interview in July, Krauss displayed no remorse for his crime. He insisted that he, not the woman he was convicted of assaulting, was the victim.

“There wasn’t any crime,” Krauss said. “I was dealt a bad hand.”

Dennis Krauss, a corporal with the Glynn County Police Department, was called to this trailer park in Brunswick on a domestic violence call on Dec. 5, 1999. (Alan Judd/ajudd@ajc.com)

THE ASSAULT

Krauss, a corporal with the Glynn County Police Department, was nearing the end of his shift, patrolling west of downtown Brunswick. It’s a seedy area, populated by trailer parks and pawn shops, convenience stores and tattoo parlors. Out beyond the interstate, it’s well out of view of most of the tourists who visit Southeast Georgia’s Golden Isles.

About 10 p.m. on Dec. 5, 1999, a Sunday, Krauss heard a call on his police radio: a domestic violence incident at the Live Oak Mobile Home Park. Another officer was dispatched, but Krauss was closer. He pulled his Ford SUV police cruiser into the gravel driveway, passing a cluster of decrepit trailers beneath towering live oaks before he reached Lot 61.

The 37-year-old woman who called the police was drunk. So was the boyfriend who had allegedly slapped her in the face while they drank beer with a neighbor. When she had tried to leave, he disabled her car.

Krauss made no arrests. He did not take down information to file a report, even though police department policy required one for every domestic-violence call. After just a few minutes at the trailer, he started to go.

“Please don’t leave me here,” the woman said, Krauss’ lawyer would later tell a jury. “He’s going to beat the hell out of me. Please don’t leave me.”

Krauss offered her a ride to a friend’s house. But after they got into the police car, the woman later testified, Krauss changed the destination.

The woman said Krauss told her she could go to jail for domestic violence – or she could go with him to a motel. She said she was scared and intimidated; he was in uniform, wearing a badge, a gun on his hip. She thought she had no choice.

Krauss drove to what was then a Motel 6 just off the interstate. The place was cheap and discreet. As the night clerk later testified, it was where “guys would take girls if they met them in the club and they didn’t want to take them home and they didn’t want to be found out by their girlfriend or whatever.”

Krauss signed the woman’s name on a registration card and paid cash for the room: $31.07.

Room 242 sits on the ground floor in the rear of the motel, just 250 feet from I-95 and the crashing-wave sound of the unceasing interstate traffic. Almost 15 years later, what happened inside remains a matter of dispute.

At the trial, Krauss’ lawyer said the officer and the woman had consensual sex. In the recent interview, however, Krauss said he resisted the woman’s advances.

“If somebody comes up with no clothes on and grabs your crotch — ,” he said, leaving the sentence unfinished. “She started the oral part — I stopped it. As far as intercourse and stuff like that, no.

“Three people know it’s a lie: She knows and I know and God knows. I stopped it. I think that’s what made her mad.”

During the trial, the woman said Krauss shoved her into the motel room and closed the door. He took off his gun belt and removed the pistol.

“He was holding it but he wanted me to hold it, too,” the woman testified. “He wanted to have anal sex with me with the gun.”

She started crying, she said, and told him, “Please, no, don’t do that.” Still holding the gun, she said, Krauss took off his pants, pushed her down onto the bed and raped her. Krauss still wore the dark brown shirt from his police uniform, his badge pinned above his left breast pocket.

The woman felt nowhere was safe, she testified later. Her boyfriend could find her at her friend’s house. If she stayed in the motel, Krauss could return and assault her again.

Krauss ended up driving her home. But first, he stopped at the motel office and demanded a refund.

THE TRIAL

At her trailer, the woman found her boyfriend sleeping on a sofa. When she told him what happened with Krauss, he responded, “Shut up and go to bed.”

She called the FBI in Atlanta, but an agent told her to talk to the local police. The Glynn County police. Krauss’ department.

She decided to say nothing more, she testified later. But about 2 ½ weeks after the assault, Krauss showed up at her trailer again. He demanded sex, the woman said, and relented only when she claimed her boyfriend was on the way home. Afterward, she confided in a neighbor, who called an acquaintance with the Glynn County police. Soon, Krauss was in custody. He turned in his badge and gun.

The case went to trial almost three years later. Krauss’ lawyer, a public defender, called the victim a liar and said she “set a snare” in hopes of collecting a large settlement.

Thornton, the prosecutor, said the woman was vulnerable and scared, victimized first by her boyfriend, then a second time by a uniformed, armed police officer. In a recent interview, Thornton said that throughout the trial, Krauss sat at the defense table, glaring at her.

“I thought the guy’s going to kill me,” she said. “His hatred was just permeating off of him.”

The jury convicted Krauss of sexual assault against a person in custody and acquitted him of two other charges: sexual battery, related to his second visit to the woman’s trailer, and rape. A judge sentenced him to two years in prison followed by one year on probation. Krauss says he turned over his guns to his brother-in-law.

After the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, Krauss served 19 months of his sentence. He left prison on Nov. 16, 2005.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles during a 2014 meeting. (Kent Johnson/kjohnson@ajc.com)

THE PARDON

Georgia’s Constitution guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But that right goes away with a felony conviction, reinstated only by action of the parole board.

Neither the law nor board policy guarantees that felons will regain their gun rights. But the odds are in the offender’s favor, the Journal-Constitution found. From 2008 through 2013, the parole board voted down about 700 applications for pardons with gun rights while approving twice that many.

The board gave no reasons for any approval or denial, consistent with its practice of shrouding its deliberations with a near-total secrecy. The governor appoints the board’s members to seven-year staggered terms, but has no other role in the pardon or parole process. Once they take office, board members answer to no one.

This autonomy lets the board significantly alter its practices without having to justify or explain its decisions. As recently as 2005, for example, the board said in its annual report that it would not restore gun rights to “any pardon applicant who possessed a firearm in the commission of the offense.” But over the past few years, the board set aside that restriction, restoring gun rights even to felons convicted for weapons violations and for shooting others.

A certain level of tension always exists in the board’s work, former members said in interviews. It must weigh a felon’s legitimate rehabilitation against public safety, an equation that can be especially difficult to balance in gun-rights cases.

“We’re a world of second chances,” said Gale Buckner, a former parole board chairwoman who is now a judge in Murray County. “Everyone deserves an opportunity for a second chance.”

But when dealing with violent offenders or people who harmed children, she added: “It would have to be an extraordinary person for me to vote to have their gun rights restored.”

Krauss had been out of prison about six years when he applied for a pardon with gun rights. It was more than a year later before he heard from the parole board. He has no idea whether the board’s staff investigated him in the meantime.

Damning information about Krauss’ past had come to light since his conviction, much of it through a lawsuit the sexual-assault victim filed against Glynn County. The county paid her a $200,000 settlement.

Records associated with the lawsuit revealed that Krauss had been with the police department for less than a year when another woman alleged he solicited sex in exchange for not arresting her. The department suspended Krauss three days without pay. Documents from another lawsuit quoted a Glynn County police official as saying at least 10 women made similar allegations against Krauss during the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1982 and in 1994, Krauss was accused of verbally abusing citizens he encountered on patrol. In the latter case, he exploded when a panhandler told him the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the right to ask strangers for money. “You bring ‘em all down here and (we) will throw all their asses out of here just like you,” the woman quoted Krauss as saying of the court’s justices.

Krauss also faced at least two excessive force allegations, entered a hospital for an overdose of prescription drugs while under investigation for harassing a former girlfriend, and received a reprimand for using a police computer to check out his former wife’s husband.

Then, while the 1999 sexual assault case was under investigation, a woman came forward and said Krauss had attacked her, too, about two years earlier. The woman said she got into a loud argument with her boyfriend at a bar where Krauss was working security. She said Krauss led her into a back alley, pushed her to her knees and tried to force her to perform a sex act. He stopped, she said, only when the bar’s owner intervened.

Krauss recently denied these allegations. He blamed his troubles on internal police department politics.

None of the allegations came up, he said, when he talked to a parole board employee about his gun rights.

During a half-hour conversation at a Brunswick probation office, Krauss said, he told her he wanted to hunt again. “It’s kind of hard to hunt without being able to use a rifle or shotgun.”

He didn’t tell her he wanted his guns to protect himself.

“That was not exactly the answer they wanted,” he said.

On July 3, 2013, with no public explanation, the parole board restored his firearms rights. Krauss retrieved his weapons from his brother-in-law and brought them home.

FAILURE TO THRIVE

Krauss’ victim left Brunswick soon after the assault. During the trial, prosecutors said she had received psychiatric treatment and had attempted suicide.

The woman, 52, lives in the Midwest now, 750 miles from Brunswick. She has been arrested at least three times for minor offenses allegedly commited while she was drunk, according to court records and police in her current city.

On Facebook, the woman lists her occupation as “disabled.” In April, she posted a photo of a police car, lights flashing, with this quotation: “I’ve always resented the fact that when a cop drives by I feel paranoid instead of protected.”

Efforts to interview the woman were unsuccessful. The Journal-Constitution’s policy is to not publish the names of sex-crimes victims.

Krauss insists he did not harm the woman.

“Let me tell you something,” he said. “I’m 57 years old. I’m not a bad person. When all this happened at the police department, nobody could believe it.”

He blames his former police chief (“a piece of garbage” who never liked him), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who interrogated him (“a retard from hell”), the prosecutor (“this super-duper assistant district attorney”), and the victim (“a drunk girl” out for money).

“This is the crap my life was destroyed over,” Krauss said.

Regaining his gun rights was no big deal, he said. He doesn’t consider himself a threat to people involved in his prosecution, or to anyone else.

“That kind of stuff doesn’t cross my mind,” Krauss said. “I’m not a violent person, and I’m not a nut case.”

Like the victim, Krauss has failed to thrive since the assault. His criminal record disqualifies him for many jobs. On a Facebook page featuring NASCAR information, handyman tips and religious music videos, Krauss says he is self-employed.

Last January, he reposted an item from a group called I Love My Glock. It’s a picture of a T-shirt that says: “Now I lay me down to sleep. Beside the bed a Glock I keep. If I wake and you’re inside, the coroner’s van will be your last ride.”

Krauss’ comment: “Truth.”

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