Local

Prosecutors begin drug case reviews

James Hubert Autry Jr. was charged in April with cocaine possession with intent to sell – his seventh felony and fourth drug-related arrest since 1989. He has spent eight of his 46 years in prison.

Yet prosecutors may dismiss Autry's case because one of the officers who arrested him faces his own drug charges.

Gerald Holas is a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged this month with conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, along with Jason Ross, another former officer. The FBI accuses the men, who remain in jail, of helping alleged drug dealer David Lockhart avoid police detection and protect his drug activity.

Last week, Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist said he would dismiss any pending cases in which Holas or Ross played a critical role. This week, officials in the DA's office have begun compiling and reviewing those cases, which could number in the hundreds, to determine how big the officers' roles were.

“We're really in the early stages of trying to get this done,” said Heather Taraska, the assistant district attorney who heads the office's drug unit and who is leading the effort to weed out the questionable cases. “We just don't know where we are with this. That's something we won't know for a while.”

The office, for now, doesn't have a plan for reviewing convictions, said Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser.

Taraska didn't say specifically that Autry's case is a candidate for dismissal, but she said prosecutors want to review every case in which Holas or Ross is listed as a witness. Holas, who primarily worked drug cases, is one of four police witnesses named on Autry's arrest sheet.

An Observer review of about 40 cases in which Holas or Ross were witnesses shows that several defendants have prior felony convictions.

Examples include Adrian Lamont Jones, 26, charged May 30 with cocaine possession. He's been convicted twice of felony drug possession since 2000.

Another: Anthony Lee Barnhill, 41, charged April 18 with carrying a concealed weapon. He's been convicted of drug possession twice since 1993.

The arrest sheet in Jones' case lists Holas as one of three police witnesses; Barnhill's sheet lists Ross as the sole witness.

But prosecutors have to review cases individually because it's impossible to tell at a glance how critical a listed witness's testimony was, Taraska said. In some cases, she said, the officer who transports a suspect to jail lists himself as a witness.

“Each case will be different,” Taraska said. ”We just have to evaluate them.”

Holas and Ross, both 35, remained in the county jail Wednesday. Neither Holas' attorney, Anthony Scheer, nor Ross', Chris Fialko, returned calls Wednesday from the Observer.

On Wednesday, Gilchrist met with Taraska, an office computer specialist and a member of his support staff to outline a plan for the review, Taraska said.

The specialist will sort data on cases from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and police department, and support staff will pull case files, she said. Then the drug unit's nine prosecutors will review the cases and decide which should be dismissed.

If defense attorneys alert the office to cases involving one or both officers, prosecutors will review those, too, she said: “We're just doing the best we can with this.”

James Hubert Autry Jr. was charged in April with cocaine possession with intent to sell – his seventh felony and fourth drug-related arrest since 1989. He has spent eight of his 46 years in prison.

Yet prosecutors may dismiss Autry's case because one of the officers who arrested him faces his own drug charges.

Gerald Holas is a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged this month with conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, along with Jason Ross, another former officer. The FBI accuses the men, who remain in jail, of helping alleged drug dealer David Lockhart avoid police detection and protect his drug activity.

Last week, Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist said he would dismiss any pending cases in which Holas or Ross played a critical role. This week, officials in the DA's office have begun compiling and reviewing those cases, which could number in the hundreds, to determine how big the officers' roles were.

“We're really in the early stages of trying to get this done,” said Heather Taraska, the assistant district attorney who heads the office's drug unit and who is leading the effort to weed out the questionable cases. “We just don't know where we are with this. That's something we won't know for a while.”

The office, for now, doesn't have a plan for reviewing convictions, said Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser.

Taraska didn't say specifically that Autry's case is a candidate for dismissal, but she said prosecutors want to review every case in which Holas or Ross is listed as a witness. Holas, who primarily worked drug cases, is one of four police witnesses named on Autry's arrest sheet.

An Observer review of about 40 cases in which Holas or Ross were witnesses shows that several defendants have prior felony convictions.

Examples include Adrian Lamont Jones, 26, charged May 30 with cocaine possession. He's been convicted twice of felony drug possession since 2000.

Another: Anthony Lee Barnhill, 41, charged April 18 with carrying a concealed weapon. He's been convicted of drug possession twice since 1993.

The arrest sheet in Jones' case lists Holas as one of three police witnesses; Barnhill's sheet lists Ross as the sole witness.

But prosecutors have to review cases individually because it's impossible to tell at a glance how critical a listed witness's testimony was, Taraska said. In some cases, she said, the officer who transports a suspect to jail lists himself as a witness.

“Each case will be different,” Taraska said. ”We just have to evaluate them.”

Holas and Ross, both 35, remained in the county jail Wednesday. Neither Holas' attorney, Anthony Scheer, nor Ross', Chris Fialko, returned calls Wednesday from the Observer.

On Wednesday, Gilchrist met with Taraska, an office computer specialist and a member of his support staff to outline a plan for the review, Taraska said.

The specialist will sort data on cases from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and police department, and support staff will pull case files, she said. Then the drug unit's nine prosecutors will review the cases and decide which should be dismissed.

If defense attorneys alert the office to cases involving one or both officers, prosecutors will review those, too, she said: “We're just doing the best we can with this.”

  Comments