A former Henry County police officer’s surprising, last-minute decision to reject a plea deal that would have kept him out of prison for allegedly assaulting a former NFL player could shed new light on a related controversy involving Henry’s top cop and his deputy chief.
The stunning turn of events was set into motion Tuesday morning when David Rose — the cop who was fired after cellphone video showing him choking a handcuffed Desmond Marrow went viral — decided “he couldn’t come in and plead to something that would make him a criminal,” said Lee Sexton, Rose’s new lawyer.
“He’s taking a risk of a felony conviction and possibly going to prison,” Sexton said. “I’m a 100 percent believer in his decision.”
Henry District Attorney Darius Pattillo said Rose could now face “a host of charges,” including violation of oath of office. Rose can be heard on dash cam video telling his partner, Officer Matthew Donaldson, “I’m not going to write it down, but hell yeah I choked that (expletive deleted).”
Pattillo said he learned of Rose’s change of heart minutes before he was set to announce a plea deal in court. He had been told as late as Monday night that Rose would plead guilty to simple battery in exchange for no jail time, 12 months probation, enrollment in an anger management class, and the surrender of his Georgia Peace Officer and Standards Training certification.
“That was a centerpiece of the negotiations,” Pattillo told Superior Court Judge Holly Veal. “We believe he should not be a police officer again.”
Rose isn’t so sure he wants to return to law enforcement after Henry Police Chief Mark Ammerman “threw him under the bus,” according to his attorney, who took charge of the defense after Rose fired his first lawyer, Grady Dukes, of the Police Benevolent Association. Sexton said the police administration’s handling of his client’s case is sure to come up if the case, as now seems certain, goes to trial.
Initially, Rose had little reason to worry about his job security. An internal affairs investigation, completed five days after Marrow’s arrest on Dec. 2, 2017, found no fault in the officer’s response.
In his report, shared only with Henry County commissioners, Internal Affairs Division Maj. Mike Ireland determined that Rose’s hand “was placed in the area of Mr. Marrow’s neck (and) does not appear to be intentional.”
Marrow’s movements caused Rose’s hand to slip around the neck, the report stated.
“My investigation revealed the officers were in compliance with policy,” wrote Ireland, who was subsequently promoted to deputy chief.
Rose and Donaldson were exonerated. Marrow was charged with felony obstruction of police.
Then, in April 2018, the cellphone video depicting Marrow’s arrest hit social media, provoking widespread criticism. Henry police leadership was quick to respond. (Sexton said he thinks a civil lawsuit Marrow filed against the county, more than the video, prompted the dramatic reversal that followed.)
On May 10, Chief Ammerman held a press conference to announce Rose’s dismissal, saying the department “does not tolerate this type of conduct from its officers.” He pointed to a just-completed internal investigation that found Rose had applied unnecessary force against the former cornerback, who had been pulled over for an alleged incident of road rage.
The obstruction charge against Marrow was dropped. Ammerman was widely lauded for holding one of his officers accountable. Rose, meanwhile, was suddenly facing a criminal investigation by the district attorney.
There was no mention of that initial investigation that had cleared Rose. It had not been shared with the public, or Marrow’s lawyers.
It wouldn’t have seemed a big deal at the time, as the timing of Rose’s dismissal clearly coincided with the release of the cellphone video. But a few months later, Marrow’s attorneys came forward with a bombshell, uncovered through an inadvertent clue in the second internal investigation that made mention of the first.
They found that Henry police officials had seen the cellphone video, and the dash cam footage in which Rose admits to choking Marrow, prior to the completion of that initial investigation. So the evidence they cited when firing Rose was known by them months earlier when they chose to exonerate him.
“Things like this just can’t happen,” attorney Chris Stewart, part of Marrow’s legal team, said Tuesday. “This is how Officer Roses are created, because they’re allowed to get away with it.”
They have called on Pattillo and state Attorney General Chris Carr to investigate the department’s handling of the matter. But so far that effort has gained little traction. Rose’s decision could change that.
Pattillo deflected when asked on Tuesday whether an investigation of the police administration was underway, or even being considered. (Stewart said he has reached out to the AG’s office but has yet to hear back.)
“Our focus right now is Officer Rose,” he said. “Our position right now is looking at all options available to us … regarding Mr. Rose.”
Judge Veal ordered Rose to surrender to authorities by Wednesday morning. Sexton said Rose tried to surrender Tuesday but was turned away because no arrest warrant had been issued.
The district attorney clarified that a grand jury will have to be convened first. If an indictment is handed down, Rose would then face a trial, but this time he may not be the only Henry officer under scrutiny.
“It’s up to the citizens of Henry County who elect these people, who can demand changes be made, to hold them accountable,” Stewart said. “They’re not going to hold themselves accountable, because why would they? They have the power. Today was another example of an officer who believes he is still in control, who believes he has more power than the DA, the judge, and the community.”
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