This is a follow up to a story that originally ran in 2012. That story was on sheriff’s candidate Mark Crowe and headlined “Book closes on Crowe brutality accusation.”
It reported Tommie Lee Williams, who filed a lawsuit accusing Crowe of beating him in his own front yard in 2009, instead pleaded guilty to obstruction of a law enforcement officer and was given five years probation and a $500 fine.
The civil lawsuit, which claimed Crowe wasn’t wearing a uniform and used racial slurs when he attacked Williams, was dropped.
A non-issue, perhaps, until Crowe decided to run for Bryan County’s top law enforcement job. The incident that prompted the lawsuit and a host of 2009 stories leading up to it have in recent months gained traction on social media, and can easily be found on the internet.
Further, the News’ 2012 story on the end to the accusations was not as exhaustive as stories on the allegations against Crowe that preceded it.
In fairness to Crowe, who asked some months ago if the News would consider a follow up to add more balance to its past reporting available online, we agreed to run a follow up addressing the end of that particular case.
That was in February, and he provided us with documentation from various sources as well as the court transcript of the hearing in which Williams entered his plea.
And then COVID-19 became the dominant story, and everything else – including the Crowe follow up, took a back seat. As we all try to move forward there are things that need to be caught up on. This is one of them.
Throughout this process, Crowe has, in this reporter’s eyes at least, remained much the same – from the time he was accused of using racial slurs to now.
In 2009, while accusations of racism were leveled, he did not publicize the fact he and his wife, Becky Crowe, have an “informally adopted” son who is African American, nor did he complain to the News about coverage at the time which, while neutral in our eyes, wasn’t flattering.
Again, not until eight years later, when the old stories came back up on social media did Crowe reach out and ask if the BCN would do more comprehensive follow up when Crowe’s accuser pled guilty to obstruction, and, through his attorney, apologized to Crowe.
So here we are. In the end, it seemed best to focus on the hearing in which Williams, through his attorney, apologized to Crowe and pled guilty to obstruction. The attorney who represented Williams and five other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Crowe and the Bryan County Sheriff ’s Department was Sage Brown, a Savannah civil rights icon who died in 2015. According to court transcripts from the guilty plea heard before Atlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Jay Stewart on Aug. 7, 2012, during the proceedings, Brown asked to speak to the court on behalf of Williams, who did not admit to guilt but in what’s called an Alford Plea did admit that a jury could find him guilty. What Brown said on Williams’ behalf was remarkable.
It’s edited slightly for grammatical and clarity purposes and begins with Brown asking to address Stewart before his client enters a plea. He then references a photo provided him by the assistant district attorney, Greg McConnell.
Brown: “Judge, my client is not as articulate as I believe necessary. So we’ve talked about this, and he’s authorized me to say the things that I’m about to say to the Court. First of all, I have to start out, Judge, by apologizing. Mr. McConnell (the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case against Williams) sent me a document yesterday.
“Mr. McConnell sent me a picture yesterday that I should have downloaded. I didn’t even show it to my client. And I apologize for not downloading it, but I’ll try and describe it as best as I know how to. It was a picture of (then Pembroke Police) Chief Crowe and his wife and their adopted son. And when I saw the picture, I think what is sufficient to say, Judge, is that he is of the same hue as I. Sometimes, Judge, when things are said, they can be hurtful…sometimes because we’re out there in the public eye, they say more about us.
“I cannot in good conscience come into this court and accuse Chief Crowe of being racist… the pictures certainly don’t substantiate that.
And to the extent that it might have been implied over the last three, three and a half years that his conduct has been racially motivated…I would like to apologize to him and the Court and the community because I just don’t think that’s the case.
I mean, I don’t think if you’re a racist you would have an adopted son of my hue.
Brown continued: “I think what happened on the 14th of April, 2009, as I look at it -- and I have to look at every act that takes place in the best set of circumstances. I cannot impugn wrong on the part of anybody. That’s not my purpose, Judge.
What we’re trying to do here today is to respond to a bad situation and put it behind us. It has been divisive in this community too long. And I think, you know, sometimes we’re raised, we’re conditioned to hear something out of circumstances that maybe don’t exist. The older I get the more I understand that we can be programmed to expect a condition, and even if a condition is not there, we still expect it.
“But my point is, what I would ask the Court to consider is -- and I’m accepting, and I’m asking my client to accept, and I’m asking the community to accept that on April the 14th, 2009, Chief Crowe intended no ill will to anybody. But because of the wording, it got misinterpreted, Judge. And I don’t think it got misinterpreted because he’s a bad man, and I certainly don’t believe it got misinterpreted because he’s a bad man.
“I don’t think it will solve any purpose, Judge, to continue to punish anybody. Everybody has been punished enough.
“I would ask the Court -- he’s been punished enough. Chief Crowe has been walking around for the last three and a half years with at least half of the people that he serves looking at him -- even though that haven’t had the courage to say it -thinking that he’s a racist.
And that’s what I meant when I said sometimes things are -- some things are more hurtful than others. Some things hurt on the outside, and some things hurt to the core.
And when it hurts to the core, you have to resist it, because that’s your being.
That’s your purpose.
That’s your character.
Now, but just as Chief Crowe has been punished, so has (Williams) been punished. He has been driven near bankruptcy, Judge. In all honesty and all candor, and I state in my place, this is a very expensive, difficult process that he’s been through in the last three and a half years, Judge. He’s lost his car. He’s behind in child support. Everything that could happen to him shy of going to jail has happened to him.”
Later, Brown added: “But, Judge, we want to make sure that we come across loud and clear to every nook and cranny in this county, to every nook and cranny, every residual person, that while there was a misunderstanding - and a serious misunderstanding - that there’s absolutely no basis to stand here and say that Chief Crowe is a racist or that he did anything because of racism ... And I think that is important to say that for him as it is for me to say what I have to say for my client.”
Stewart also spoke before sentencing Williams to five years probation and imposing a $500 fine.
“This had the potential to be racially divisive and to do substantial harm to a lot of good relationships that exist in Bryan County and in this area.
If we handle it the way it should be handled, it likewise has the potential to do a lot of good, because it can cause both sides to realize everybody was really after the same thing in this situation. And that was for it to be handled properly, dealt with like adults, and with respect from one side to the other so that we reach a result that years from now we can look back and say that was well done. It was well handled, and we put it behind us. And I think that has been done here.”
A copy of the entire court transcript (in PDF format) is available here.