BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A city official charged with interfering with the police investigation of a baby's slaying in coastal Georgia made a mistake when he tried to help a teen suspect's mother but believes he committed no crimes, his defense attorney said Friday.
The arrest of Brunswick city commissioner James Henry Brooks added another wrinkle to a case that was already tough to fathom. Authorities say a teenage gunman and his younger accomplice on March 21 tried to rob a woman pushing her 13-month-old baby in a stroller near their home. When Sherry West refused to give them money, police say, the gunman shot her in the leg before shooting her child in the face.
Brooks, who serves as mayor pro tem on the four-member city commission, was arrested Thursday on charges of obstructing a police officer and interfering with a witness. Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday and his administrative assistant said the chief planned to make no statements.
Brooks attorney Alan David Tucker told The Associated Press both charges stemmed from a single encounter Monday. Brooks had attended a court hearing for 17-year-old De'Marquise Elkins, the murder suspect accused of shooting the baby, and was accompanying the teen's mother.
When a police officer tried to talk to Karimah Elkins after the hearing, Brooks stepped in between them, Tucker said.
"He told her, 'Don't make any statements until you have an attorney,'" Tucker said. "That's what he did. I tell clients all the time don't talk to the police without a lawyer and it's not a crime."
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering declined to discuss what led to the commissioner's arrest other than to say the charges were "relative to part of the murder investigation" involving the child's death.
Doering disclosed no new details of the case in a conference call with reporters Friday. He did for the first time confirm the baby's slaying resulted from an attempted robbery, just as the child's mother has said since the crime happened.
"There's no question in my mind armed robbery was the motive," Doering said.
After Brooks spent the night in jail, a judge granted him $5,000 bond Friday.
Elkins' family rushed to the suspect after he and another teen, 15-year-old Dominique Lang, were charged the day after the slaying. Elkins' aunt insisted he was having breakfast at her house when the shooting occurred.
Tucker said the commissioner at first believed the family that police were rushing to prosecute Elkins and wanted to help. That was before the mom and De'Marquise Elkins' older sister, Sabrina Elkins, were charged with evidence tampering. Prosecutors say they tried to dispose of a .22-caliber revolver, which police suspect was used to shoot the baby, by dumping it in a saltwater pond where investigators found the weapon.
The two women had their court first appearance Friday. The Florida Times Union reported (http://bit.ly/165fjYy) a Magistrate Court judge advised them of their rights and said he would conduct a bond hearing at a later date.
Elkins' mother and his aunt, Katrina Elkins, have also been charged with making false statements to police. Prosecutors say the women gave false — and conflicting — alibis for the suspect.
"They're constituents of Commissioner Brooks' and he went to bat for them" before the women were charged, Tucker said. "Unfortunately he picked the wrong ones to go to bat for."
The commissioner has other legal problems that aren't connected to the baby killing. Also Thursday a grand jury in neighboring Camden County indicted Brooks on racketeering and other charges saying he abused his elected office by getting applicants for police jobs, liquor licenses and permits to pay him in exchange for his help influencing other officials. Tucker said Brooks did nothing illegal.
Attorneys for De'Marquise Elkins and Lang say have both said their clients are innocent.