The war of words in a criminal case has expanded beyond the Bay County courthouse and into the realm of social media.
It started last Friday when Kim Dowgul, Assistant Public Defender, argued a motion to suppress evidence in the murder case of Philip Brock. Her client is accused of killing Terry Brazil in Fountain in December 2012.
Dowgul asked the judge to disallow information obtained in Brock's interrogation by Bay County Sheriff's Office investigators. Dowgul claimed Captain Jimmy Stanford, commander of the BCSO Criminal Investigations Division, slapped Brock and refused his request to have an attorney present during questioning.
Sheriff Frank McKeithen took offense to Dowgul's accusations and turned to Facebook to defend his officer. In his post, McKeithen suggested the assistant public defender has a personal vendetta against the sheriff's office and attached two of Dowgul's own Facebook posts as proof. Click here to read the Facebook posts.
"Sometimes we can't get our side of the story out there and that's what precipitated the sheriff doing a post to our friends on Facebook, just kind of telling our side of the story," Major Tommy Ford said in a Wednesday interview. "We cannot speak directly to the court or in front of the court… we basically respond to questioning by the defense and the prosecution."
Ford said Dowgul's social media comments crossed a line dividing a professional adversarial relationship from personal attacks and offended the sheriff in the process. "Sometimes we do make mistakes, but this tactic of 'let's throw what we can think of out there no matter how damaging it is to the reputation of a law enforcement officer [and] see what sticks and how the judge rules on that' is not, in my opinion, the professional way to practice law," Ford said.
Ford denied any wrongdoing by BCSO officers and said Dowgul's claims had no basis in fact. "If you have evidence of something that occurred that is inappropriate, certainly that is something to bring to the court's attention," Ford said. "When you've got a host of witnesses including a senior prosecutor with the state attorney's office and a federal agent who testified in court that there's no basis to that, it speaks volumes."
When contacted Wednesday, Dowgul stood by her claims that BCSO investigators mistreated Brock during questioning. "The nature of a motion to suppress is that law enforcement officers did not follow the law… I've had to file motions to suppress evidence on these same officers that were granted," Dowgul said. "I will continue to do my job professionally and will not stop… this is not personal."
Dowgul did express regret over her social media comments. "In regards to the Facebook posts, I apologize for any embarrassment those caused the public defender's office and they will never be repeated in the future," she said.
Judge Brantley Clark has not yet ruled on Dowgul's motion. Brock is scheduled for trial in September.