Case Bound To Grand Jury Against Teacher Who Held "Ghostbusters" With Assault Rifle

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Charges were bound to the Grand Jury on Wednesday against a county school teacher who held an assault rifle on a group of students checking out reports of a ghost at a Sale Creek cemetery.

Stacy Swallows is charged with 19 counts of aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said both Swallows and the students made errors in judgment. But he said the case "should have been settled here instead of drug on in the courts for years as it certainly will be."

The incident happened Sept. 5 at the remote Shipley Cemetery.

Cole Stephens, a 19-year-old Chattanooga State student, said he lives nearby and had heard "a story about a ghost. It's online." He said those who visit the cemetery drive around a loop three times, then stop and listen. He said, "You are supposed to hear weird sounds and sometimes you can even see a light."

The ghost is called the Pitty Pat Booger, it was stated.

He said it was arranged that several friends and relatives would meet at the cemetery. He said he was in one truck and there was another truck behind him, then a third vehicle arrived later.

He said when he pulled into the cemetery he saw a white Honda Civic by the road. He said a couple of minutes later that car suddenly sped off. He said, "We did not see anybody in the car when we passed."

The witness said a truck then "came flying down the driveway." He said Swallows got out of the truck and came up to his side of the vehicle. He said Swallows had a gun by his side, then raised it and pointed it at him.

He said Swallows said, "What the h--- are you doing here?"

He said he tried to tell Swallows they had come to check out a story about ghosts, and they were trying to leave. He said Swallows would not let them leave and also stopped another group of their friends that arrived on the scene.

He said a group of county officers then arrived and made him and other of the young people get on the ground and be handcuffed.

Mr. Stephens said he was finally able to convince the officers that none of the young people had weapons, but it was Swallows that had the gun.

Deputy David McCann said the officers responded on a "shots fired" call. He said officers found Swallows holding the young people. It was later found that an AR15 nearby belonged to Swallows.

He said Swallows also called a neighbor to the scene, and he had two pistols with him.

During the lengthy hearing, the 911 call made by Swallows was played. He said, "I've got two sets of vehicles stopped right now. They're not getting out of here. I've got the intersection blocked. I want to find out who's shooting up here. I do have a weapon on me - an AR15 assault rifle. I have not fired any rounds."

Swallows did not testify.

Judge Moon said, "The proof conclusively shows that none of these young people got out of their vehicles, did not step foot on the cemetery property, had no weapons, guns nor contraband and committed no criminal offenses. As a result, under Tennessee law, Mr. Swallows had no legal authority to make an arrest for an offense that was never committed in his presence or anywhere else. These young people had an absolute right to be on the public road where they were illegally stopped."

He added, "The Tennessee General Assembly has substantially changed the old common rules of a citizen's arrest. A citizen can only make an arrest for an offense committed in the citizen's presence or when a citizen has a reasonable belief that a felony has or or is about to be committed - neither of which occurred in this case."

Judge Moon said the young people did made a mistake by going to the cemetery at that time of night.

The judge said, "Nothing good happens in a cemetery after dark."

He called Swallows "a good man and an outstanding teacher, but he made a bad judgment. He overreacted. Instead of calling police, he got up a posse."

Swallows, an instructor at Sequoyah Vocational School, was allowed to stay on the same bond.

Ben Boyer was the prosecutor and Jerry Summers the defense attorney.

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