For Judge Glenda Hatchett, the incident at a Cobb County hotel bar was a bizarre and troubling #MeToo moment.
For former Sheriff Kris Coody, it was a what-in-holy-hell? career-dissolving moment. And criminal.
On Monday, Coody, a second-term sheriff from Bleckley County, appeared in Cobb State Court to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery, for groping Hatchett’s breast at a sheriff’s convention in January 2022.
He turned in his resignation Monday and was sentenced to a year’s probation, 40 hours of community service and attendance in a drug and alcohol course. The judge refused to give him first-offender status, where the crime would vanish from the official record.
Coody’s explanation early on, according to three people well-positioned to know what happened, was the classic, “I dunno, I was very drunk at the time.”
Regardless, he grabbed the breast of a famous stranger just seconds after being introduced to her.
“This was crazy; the whole thing was unbelievable,” Hatchett told me in an interview Monday. “This wasn’t a dark alley, my word against his. There were three witnesses. He sexually assaulted me in full public view.”
One witness was former DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown, who is now the U.S. Marshal for northern Georgia. At the time, Brown was representing a company providing health care to jails.
Hatchett, a former Fulton County juvenile judge, is known for her TV show “Judge Hatchett” (from 2000-2008) and the “The Verdict with Judge Hatchett” (2016 on). She was also repping a wrist-monitoring company, so she went to the sheriff’s convention with her old friend, Brown. He could introduce her around.
The Georgia Sheriff’s Association was holding its winter meeting at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel and Convention Center. When people are away from home on someone else’s nickel, crazy things often happen.
Terry Norris said the massive atrium-style lobby at the hotel serves as a bar and gets loud and packed on convention nights. “I warned the sheriffs that ‘I wouldn’t go there after 10 p.m.,’” he told me.
Hatchett recalled that Brown and a few others were at a table when three sheriffs came over to greet them. Making small talk, Hatchett told Coody she didn’t know where Bleckley County was. (The 12,500-resident county is south of Macon.)
She said he poked her mid-chest and said, “It’s right in the middle of Georgia.” Then she said he grabbed her breast, rubbed it and “squeezed it.”
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Brown told the Cobb judge that after introducing Coody to Hatchett, he briefly looked away. “And when I turned back to my left that’s when I saw his hand on her chest and immediately removed it and directed to him ‘What are you doing?!’”
Hatchett told me her friends quickly grabbed her to leave.
Credit: Chris Dunn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Credit: Chris Dunn, email@example.com
“Afterwards, I was angry at myself,” Hatchett recalled. “Why didn’t I slap him? Or kick him? I was stunned. I was just frozen.”
She told the sentencing judge much the same thing and that she’s needed therapy since.
Hatchett is no pushover. She headed Fulton County’s juvenile court through the 1990s when crime was off the chain. She stood up to then-Gov. Zell Miller, no shrinking violet himself.
A 1994 profile in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said she waved “a scary finger” in court, one that “insists on certain things and carries with it the moral authority of generations of solid rearing: don’t mess with me, don’t lie, work hard, be proud, don’t fail, or, ‘just watch me lock your butt up in jail.’”
On Monday, Hatchett said she felt compelled to press charges, saying this was a case of, “How dare you do this?” She demanded accountability, just like she did as a judge.
“I don’t want to be the poster child for this; but given my platform, I can’t let this go,” she told me. “Tom Brown introduced me (to Coody) as a judge, and this still happened.”
What about all those without her fame or social standing? she asked.
Coody and his attorney apparently tried to settle it with an apology. I called his attorney and the Bleckley sheriff’s office but got no response.
Coody earlier released a statement, saying, “To be clear, I had no intent to touch Ms. Hatchett inappropriately. Unfortunately, I acted in a careless manner and for that I have taken full responsibility for my actions.”
Who knows what went through the vestiges of his mind? It was almost certainly clouded with strong drink but something tells me that deep down he figured he could get away with it. Sheriffs, especially those of the rural variety, are used to being pretty powerful in their communities. They are The Law.
Hatchett complained that Gov. Brian Kemp refused to appoint a three-person panel to decide if Coody should be suspended or removed from office. Protestors last fall went to the Capitol demanding just that.
Norris, from the sheriff’s association, said Coody might have been able to stay on, even with his misdemeanor guilty plea. He calculated Coody made a bit over $60,000 a year and will fall short of retirement, which needs two terms in office.
The Governor’s office said such a committee can only recommend a temporary suspension. They wanted to “let the judicial process play out.”
Now, the legal process did just what Hatchett’s supporters wanted. He’s an ex-sheriff sliding away in embarrassment.