Judge Turner Rules EMS Director James Curtis Not Guilty of Stalking
James Curtis, the director of Cullman Emergency Medical Services (CEMS), was arrested back in May 2017 based upon accusations of serial stalking.
The accuser, Tyra Cowman aka Tyra Sandlin, alleged she had been stalked and harassed by Curtis multiple times in March, April, and May of this year.
image from Facebook
Curtis, Cowman, and their attorneys – after multiple delays – finally had their day in court Thursday afternoon. They were parties to a bench trial. Such a proceeding does NOT have a jury of peers. It is adjudicated solely by the Judge of record.
In this case, the bench trial was conducted by the Honorable District Judge of the 32nd Circuit, Wells Turner, III, in his 2nd-floor courtroom inside the Cullman County Courthouse.
HISTORY & BACKGROUND
Filed in the office of 32nd Circuit Clerk Lisa McSwain, Cowman had accused James Doyle Curtis (42) of stalking back in May 2017.
Curtis is the Director of Cullman Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) which is Cullman County’s most active and best-known ambulance service. It is also a service operated by Cullman Regional. Cowman is a former employee of Cullman Regional once hired as a 911 dispatcher for CEMS.
Following Cowman’s filing the complaint with the Circuit Clerk in May, an arrest of Curtis occurred soon after. The Director’s criminal charge listed showed Misdemeanor Stalking (2nd degree). The complaint cited the alleged activity had occurred during March, April, and May of 2017.
Curtis spent minimal time in the Cullman County Detention Center. He was quickly released on $500 a conditional property bond at the time.
For background, see: http://cullmantoday.com/2017/05/18/tyra-cowman-accuses-james-curtis-of-stalking/
Johnny Berry and Brandon Little of Berry, Berry, Little, Brunner, and Chaney represented James Curtis. Assistant District Attorneys John Bryant and Jeremy Cline served Tyra Cowman on behalf of the State of Alabama.
In addition to Judge Turner, Court Reporter Cheryl Smith was on hand to transcribe every word.
Immediate sequestering of various subpoenaed witnesses to a small holding area was the first item of business. This move was presumably to remove any concerns about witnesses being influenced or tainted by the ongoing activity in the trial (and the words of other witnesses)
In an unusual opening to the proceeding, Attorney for Cullman Regional – Wayne Fuller – entered the courtroom with the hospital’s Executive Director of Human Resources, Pamela Johnson-Brown.
Impeccably dressed and adroitly groomed, Fuller proceeded to lay down the law about precisely what his client was willing and able to testify about in this particular trial.
After significant legal interactions with the primary attorneys involved and Judge Turner, Johnson-Brown testified that Tyra Cowman ‘was once an employee of Cullman EMS and that her employment had been terminated for cause.’
Over a flurry of interjections and objections from the various attorneys, she appeared to verify there was some sort of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission activity involving Cowman’s termination was in play.
Fuller, vehemently opposed that line of fact-finding with repeated objections. He defined the information presented as ‘hearsay’ and therefore unworthy of being apart of the trial. Judge Turner sustained his objection.
Fuller and his client Johnson-Brown then rapidly departed the courtroom. The main trial was finally on.
In a bench trial, there are no opening statements to the jury because there is no jury. Instead, witnesses are immediately brought to the stand and sworn in.
Tyra Cowman was the first person called to testify by ADA John Berry on behalf of the State of Alabama.
Cowman’s testimony was lengthy and detailed. It revealed:
• Cowman was employed at Cullman EMS from March 2016 to January 2017.
• James Curtis was her top boss at the ambulance service.
• Her employment was terminated at Cullman EMS on or around January 30, 2017.
• She did not see Curtis again until March 6th at Walmart on Olive Street SW in the City of Cullman.
• She recounted six different sightings she had of Curtis that in her mind constituted grounds for the stalking charge on March 6th, March 13th, April 4th, April 24th and May 11th:
“He kept showing up everywhere. He made me sick, scared and upset” was the core essence of her testimony.
• On every occasion (except May 11th), Cowman described Curtis as being in her proximity in various public places (from 10 to 50 feet away), that he stared at her, and smiled at her with a ‘weird’ grin.
The May 11th and final encounter between the parties occurred at Stone Bridge Farms during the Cullman High School Band Night.
Cowman’s testified that Curtis attempted to speak with her at this event before coming over to her nearby table. She testified that Curtis sat down, and then told her “… you need to stop these allegations, or there will be trouble …”.
Cowman’s attorney’s produced photographs and a jumpy video documenting this episode with Curtis’ wife and children present at the event.
(It was learned later in the trial that the allegations Curtis was referring to were FB Instant Messages that Cowman had sent to at least one Cullman EMS employee indicating Curtis had solicited sex from her.
In Curtis’ later testimony, he categorical denied that he had ever initiated or participated in any such activity with Cowman: “It never happened.”
In an unexpected twist and an attempt to ratch up the Plaintiff’s case, ADA John Berry introduced State’s Exhibit #2 which was a seemingly mysterious electronic device. It was clear the prosecution was making the case this was an electronic tracking device. They alluded to the likelihood that Curtis or assigns had surreptitiously installed that apparatus on the Plaintiff’s car to allegedly serial stalk her remotely.
Attorney John Berry then rose to cross-examine Cowman on Curtis’ behalf.
Sporting a snappy red tie, a sheen grey business suit, and a substantial dip of what appeared to be smokeless tobacco, Berry proceeded to impune Cowman’s credibility over the often vociferous objections of Barry & Cline.
Attorney Berry was focused on revealing that the Misdemeanor Stalking charge facing his client was unsupportable:
Alabama Code 1975, § 13A-6-90.1: (a) A person who, acting with an improper purpose, intentionally and repeatedly follows, harasses, telephones, or initiates communication, verbally, electronically, or otherwise, with another person, any member of the other person’s immediate family, or any third party with whom the other person is acquainted, and causes material harm to the mental or emotional health of the other person, or causes such person to reasonably fear that his or her employment, business, or career is threatened, and the perpetrator was previously informed to cease that conduct is guilty of the crime of stalking in the second degree.
To that end, Berry relentlessly ran through each date of the alleged stalking listed in the criminal complaint.
He was able to ascertain from Cowman, that she had:
• Never been cussed by Curtis
• Never been the target of obscene gestures
• Never spoke with Curtis at any of these sightings (except on 5/11)
• Never filed a report with management at Walmart or Jacks (where some of the encounters were alleged to have occurred)
• Never filed a law enforcement report during the entire time span of the alleged stalking
• Did not try to request store videos to support her claims
• Did not try to report or file a complaint with Cullman EMS or Cullman Regional during this time
• Curtis did not get more than few feet from her and never touched her
Cowman did reiterate in her cross-examination what she had said in her testimony with Berry about James Curtis:
“Seeing him makes me sick, scared, and upset.”
That state of being was the primary theme throughout Cowman’s testimony.
The trial was then briefly recessed to allow Court Reporter Smith a chance to rest her typing fingers, and to secure food for sequestered witnesses, namely subpoena holder and Cullman EMS staffer, Wesley Luker.
Upon return to the courtroom, Judge Turner visually reviewed the video mentioned above.
Next, the Plaintiff’s attorneys rolled out a stream of supporting witnesses to the stand:
• Cowman’s Mother
• Randy Frost – Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Investigator
• Cowman’s Boyfriend
• A Cowman Personal Friend
• Cowman’s 18-year-old son
• Wayne Collins – Cullman EMS
Most of their testimony corroborated Cowman’s earlier words and affirmed her sensations of being ‘sick, scared, and upset’ in regards to Curtis.
After a 5 minute break, Johnny Berry made a formal motion ‘For Acquittal’ for his client.
Judge Turner listened closely as Berry enumerated the weaknesses in the Plaintiff ‘s case based upon the Alabama Code 1975, § 13A-6-90.1 stalking charge. He stated that the State had failed to meet even the most basic requirements of burden of proof in the case.
Jeremy Cline quickly objected listing a series of sharply worded legal counter-arguments.
Cline’s rebuttal must have made sense to Judge Turner; he denied Berry’s motion. The trial continued.
The Defense then called an expert witness – Daniel Crigger – of Helms Stereo Center.
To distill a very long block of testimony down to its essence, Crigger defined the alleged ‘tracking device’ mentioned above as nothing more than a remote automobile door opener. He indicated that it was impossible that it had been hacked, tampered with, or altered to make it a ‘tracking device.’
At this point, a significant driver for the Plaintiff’s case – nefarious mechanisms used by Curtis to stalk Cowman at a distance – fell completely apart.
Next, Brandon Little of Berry, Berry, Little, Brunner, and Chaney brought the accused to the stand for swearing in: James Doyle Curtis
Little was able to ascertain from Curtis, that:
• Through the daily fulfillment of his job as the Director of an Ambulance Service, Curtis is all over Cullman County virtually every day responding to critical medical calls.
• His work vehicle is brightly colored, strongly marked, and extraordinarily visible: “It is impossible to miss it.”
• Curtis only saw Cowman only twice during the alleged stalking timeline from March 6th through May 11th. That being at Walmart on March 6th and again on May 11th at Stone Bridge Farms. He testified to not being aware of the other sighting Cowman provided in her testimony.
• He affirmed he did sit down at a table at Stone Bridge Farms to request Cowman cease her texting of false allegations concerning false solicitations of sex by him towards her.
When pressed by Little – under oath – if he had ever solicited Cowman for sex, he emphatically said ‘No.‘
Continuing on, Little once again reminded Curtis that he was under oath, and gave him one last chance, “Ever?”
Curtis replied, “No.”
John Bryant then rose next to cross-examine the Accused. He attempted to revisit the sexual solicitation topic:
“Ever attempted to solicit a relationship with Ms. Cowman’s, Mr. Curtis?”
Before Curtis could even think about responding, Attorney Berry belted out his highest decibel objection of the proceeding saying “Your Honor, the witness has already answered this question!”
Judge Turner sustained the objection.
The final witness was James Curtis’ wife, Heather Curtis.
She testified and affirmed the details presented about the encounter at Stone Bridge Farms.
She was agitated about the fact that Cowman was posing for ‘Selfie Photographs’ at her Stone Bridge Farms table with both Mr. and Mrs. Curtis as background subjects in the images (presumably to document her case against Curtis).
At this point, the Defense rested their case, and the Plaintiff’s side also rested.
With no further ado, Judge Wells Turner, III, took less than 10 seconds to render a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict for the defendant James Curtis at 5:12 pm.
We approached Brandon Little for a comment and interview immediately after the trial. He declined further comment from his firm due to other litigation still in play involving issues with Cowman’s past employment with Cullman EMS.
Mr. and Mrs. Curtis had these comments after the verdict:
“I am very pleased with the ruling” – Heather Curtis
“I am pleased with Judge Turner’s ruling and I would like to thank my attorneys for their hard work in this case and my friends and family for their unwavering support.” – James Curtis
1. Tyra Cowman’s clearly had/has an issue with James Curtis. She left no doubt that he makes her ‘sick, scared, and upset.’ The exact, seminal reasons for this state of being were not definitively presented in this case.
2. It seemed clear during the trial that Tyra Cowman believes she was being stalked by Curtis. However, the evidence presented in this proceeding simply did not support such a reality.
3. There appears to be more to this matter involving Cowman, Cullman EMS, and Cullman Regional as the employer beyond this specific charge, trial and verdict.
It seems telling that the hospital elected to keep Curtis in his position as Director without so much as a forced paid leave during the last few months while this case played out.
They ‘stuck by their man.’ The ‘not guilty’ verdict affirms the wisdom of their handling of Curtis’ employment based upon this singular set of allegations and the subsequent trial results.
Lesson For Everyone: Chance sightings in public places of someone you feel threatened by do not necessarily constitute stalking or necessitate a criminal charge.
However, if the person you feel threatened by is engaging in the actions listed in the Alabama Code 1975, § 13A-6-90.1 above … your first, immediate step should be to contact law enforcement and file a formal report.
Cullman County Courthouse
Judge Turner Rules EMS Director James Curtis Not Guilty of Stalking
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