Janet Hinds, the former Soddy Daisy postmaster convicted in the death of a rookie Chattanooga Police officer, was sentenced on Monday to serve 11 years in state prison. She had faced 8-12 years in prison.
“If she would have turned herself in, it would have been different, and that’s what I don’t understand,” Barry Galinger, father of officer Nicholas Galinger, said during the sentencing. “That’s why I think she should have the strictest sentence.”
Judge Don Poole set the sentence in the case in which officer Galinger, 38, was struck and killed as he inspected an overflowing manhole cover on Hamill Road in February 2019.
Ms. Hinds had consumed 78 ounces of beer. She was found guilty of vehicular homicide by intoxication and seven other charges by a jury last September.
Janet Hinds also spoke in front of the court for the first time since the 2019 incident. She apologized to both the Galinger family and her own family for what happened and what they have been through the last three years.
“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to both families,” Ms. Hinds said. “If I would’ve known someone was behind that sign, I would’ve stopped. I am so sorry to the Galinger family, and I hope one day you find mercy. I would do anything in the world to undo that night.”
District attorney Neal Pinkston said of the sentence, “We’re very satisfied with it based on the case facts and the law the judge has to follow. We’re glad the sentence was near the maximum. As far as the legal environment concerns, justice was served today, but it’s never going to bring Nicholas back.”
District attorney Pinkston and prosecutor Cameron Williams had four witnesses testify for the state. The first of these was Ms. Hinds’ son, who characterized his mother as hard-working and loving. He also said that she struggled with her Ambien prescription and said that on the night of the accident and the following day, he advised her to talk to police after the incident.
“I think she was surprised and confused,” her son said, and he also told the court that his wife noted there was hair on the car. “You need to let the police know what happened because of the damage to your car,” he said he told her.
Interim Chattanooga Police chief Eric Tucker said officer Galinger’s death “has had a deep impact. He was a young officer who found his calling.” He remembered the night of the incident and how it shook him.
“The ER doctor walked out, looked at me, shook his head and said, “I’m sorry,” Interim Chief Tucker said. “We go out to serve the public, and that is what Nicholas was doing that night.”
Officer Galinger’s sister recounted how joyous and excited her brother was about starting his new career as an officer. She said, “He was like a new person. He was so excited and he was so happy, and everyone noticed.”
She added, “My brother was just starting to begin his life again. He was happy, and it was all taken away. His kids don’t see him. They have to visit a gravesite to see him.”
Barry Galinger tearfully relived the night he and his wife learned of their son’s passing. He said the most difficult part was calling members of their family and telling them what had happened. He then asked Ms. Hinds why she did not stop when she hit his son, and why she did not turn herself in once the police were looking for her.
Defense attorney Ben McGowan brought on Ms. Hinds’ former sister-in-law to testify, and then had her longtime friend speak about Ms. Hinds’ character. Both acknowledged that she needed to be punished for her actions, but also vouched for her character and said she was otherwise a model citizen.
“I know Janet would never hurt anyone and knew immediately she did not realize what she did,” one of the defense witnesses said, while the other said. “I’ve seen the pain she’s gone through, and she’s a shell of the person she used to be. I hope you will take as much mercy as you can. This was a tragic accident.”
In closing arguments, attorney McGowan emphasized Ms. Hinds’ lack of a criminal history and her health issues. Meanwhile, the prosecutors asked for an enhanced sentence based on her violating her bond conditions several times prior to the trial. In the end, Judge Poole handed down the 11-year sentence, along with smaller sentences to run concurrently. She was taken into custody immediately.
“These are difficult cases, because a good man lost his life,” Judge Poole said. “The Hinds family is also a good family, and I’m sorry we’re all here today.”
After the trial, Barry Galinger and Nicholas’ brother Brent remembered Nicholas. Both said he just wanted to serve and had found his calling in life with the Chattanooga Police Department. Barry Galinger said he forgave Ms. Hinds two years ago and said that, while nothing will bring his son back, he is glad she got close to the maximum sentence after three years of waiting and setbacks.
“What I said to Janet when I walked back (out of the courtroom), the first words I ever said to her was, ‘I’m sorry, Janet, and God bless us all,’” he said. “I felt like her apology was sincere, but sometimes you wonder if it’s just for show. But she looked me right in the eyes, and her eyes told me it was sincere. I hope she’s remorseful.”
“Within the first three days of Nicholas’ death, we were meeting people who he’d met in Chattanooga that he had left a mark on,” Barry Galinger said. “He loved to help people. That was our son.”
Ms. Hinds will not receive any credit for time served under her house arrest. She will be eligible for review by the parole board after she has served 30 percent of her sentence.
The jury, which was brought in from the Nashville area and sequestered, deliberated about 15 hours before finding Ms. Hinds guilty of the following charges: vehicular homicide by intoxication, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death, failure to report an accident, speeding, failure to exercise due care, failure to maintain lane and DUI.