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May 1, 2012

Man stages protest against local prosecutors

Alleges intimidation

WHITLEY CITY —  After pleading guilty to criminal littering on April 19, a local man staged a two-hour protest last Tuesday morning outside the McCreary County Courthouse to proclaim his innocence and warn the public against alleged “intimidation and bullying” from the County Attorney’s Office.

    Kevin Bryant, a 25-year-old college student, said his ordeal began in March when he went to the courthouse to renew his driver’s license and was served with a criminal complaint charging him with littering on the courthouse lawn last August.

    Bryant claims that errors within the complaint are enough to prove the case invalid. Though his name was on the envelope, the address belongs to his girlfriend’s mother. While he acknowledges using that address for an unemployment claim, the envelope reportedly involved a child support case that Bryant says was resolved by June of last year.

    Other errors in the complaint included listing his birth date incorrectly, listing the courthouse as private property, and listing the violation as occurring on August 7 — a Sunday — a date he can prove he was elsewhere.

    Bryant claims that County Attorney Michele Wilson Jones refused to meet with him prior to his arraignment in McCreary District Court on April 19. He said that when he tried to plead not guilty, District Judge Fred White asked him if he would like to resolve the matter with Assistant County Attorney Austin Price, and he agreed.

    Bryant claims that while he attempted to convince Price of his innocence, the prosecutor offered him three options: 30 days in jail, pick up trash for two days, or pay a $500 fine. If Bryant wanted to take his chances at trial, Price advised him that he had enough circumstantial evidence to put Bryant in jail for one year. Bryant also claims that he only had until the end of the docket to make up his mind.

    “I should have taken a lawyer with me,” Bryant said. “There’s now a charge on my record that I did not do.”

    Bryant stated that he pled guilty and accepted a $500 fine “out of fear and wanting it to be over with.” After the plea, he continued to protest the proceeding with Price, who told him that a courthouse security officer would have testified he saw Bryant wad the envelope and throw it on the ground — something Bryant claims is an outright lie.

    Bryant’s father, Jeff Bryant, spoke to the small crowd along with his son. The elder Bryant said that he suggested the protest because he is “satisfied that thousands of McCreary Countians have no idea this could happen.”

    Liz Ridener, the private citizen who filed the complaint, attended the protest and spoke with Bryant about the complaint. While she did not see him throw the envelope down, Ridener said she found it on Sunday, August 7.

    Price was not in attendance due to family illness but maintains that one of the security officers did see the actual incident prior to that Sunday. The officer was allegedly called to the child support office prior to the incident and remembered Bryant from that. Price also disputes the idea that he pressured Bryant into pleading guilty.

    “I gave him the options,” Price said. “Are they harsh options? Sure, but people are frustrated about littering. It’s hurting the whole county, which depends on tourism. This is a serious issue, and I hope people realize the consequences will be serious if they are caught.”

    Price added that the jury wasn’t there that day so Bryant would have been given a continuance. “Apparently he didn’t want to put it in front of a jury,” the attorney said.

    Price went on to say that the county is in the process of obtaining cameras for certain locations around the county so that prosecutors can have “even better proof” when trying littering cases.

    Wilson Jones did attend the protest and said that while she could not comment on the specifics of Bryant’s case due to the child support component, she appreciates his right to protest.

    “That’s what the First Amendment is all about,” Wilson Jones said, “but the record shows that he did plead guilty.”

    Bryant said he has contacted attorneys about retracting the plea but that he can’t afford the $1,500 it would take to fight the case. While it may be too late to change his record, Bryant said he wanted to warn the public. He told the Record that would like to start a watchdog group to uncover governmental corruption.

    “I love McCreary County,” Bryant said. “I just want justice to be served.”

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