Councilman Pete Souza testified he was assaulted by councilman Kerley
Assault charges against Councilman Kerley dismissed after hearing.
The entire hearing lasted just under 30 minutes and at the end of the hearing, Cumberland County General Sessions Judge Larry Warner ruled that the case fell somewhere between probable case and beyond a reasonable doubt but according to Judge Warner did not rise above the level of beyond a reasonable doubt and he ruled in favor of Attorney Kevin Bryant's motion to dismiss the charges against his client Kerley.
The two lawyers stipulated to the city hall surveillance video and the first testimony was given by Crossville city councilman Pete Souza who was the alleged victim of the assault by Mr. Kerley. Souza described the incident under questioning of DA Hatch saying that he had come down the stairs into the lobby of city hall and described councilman Jesse Kerley as being in an "aggressive, animated and angry mode."
Souza said that he came down the stairs from the meeting and Kerley was at the bottom of the stairs "pretty stimulated and excited" and wanted Souza to accompany Kerley out side to talk. Souza said as he started through the door Kerley father came right up behind him blocking Souza. According to Souza Kerley's father said something to him and he turned his head and did not see Jesse coming at him and he was struck in the chest very hard by Jesse Kerley.
Souza said he went into a defensive mode and was asked if he was scared by DA Hatch. Souza answered, "What I saw sir was the same thing I saw many years ago in the line of duty when someone wanted to kill me. I was afraid."
Souza said he then went back up to the meeting room to report the incident to interim police chief Rod Shoap. After reporting the incident to Shoap Souza left city hall.
Bryant on cross examination asked Souza about the fact that the police did not take out a warrant shortly after the incident. The summons for Mr. Kerley was not issued until early August about 2 months after the incident. Souza testified that police chief Shoap took the information to the district attorney's office before the summons was issued.
The second witness called was Howard Burnette who had left the meeting just before Mr. Souza and he testified he had concerns for his own safety after seeing the two Kerley's in the lobby of city hall. Burnette said that he was concerned for his safety and instead of going out the door turned toward the water fountain. Burnette said that he waited until another man came down the stairs and then he felt it was safe for him to go to his car.
Burnette got to his car, got in and prepared to leave the parking lot when he looked up and saw the incident. His car was parked facing the door at which Mr. Souza and Mr. Kerley came together. According to Burnette, he saw Kerley go toward Souza and Souza was struck. Burnette said he could not see how Kerley struck Souza but he could see Souza's reaction to being struck. Burnette testified he then got out of the car and moved quickly back toward the two men expecting to break up a fight but Mr. Souza turned to go back in the building and Burnette followed.
On cross, Mr. Bryant questioned Mr. Burnette's fear at first then later his movement toward Mr. Kerley and Mr. Souza rather then calling 911.
The next action was for the judge to review the surveillance video from city hall and following that Mr. Bryant made a motion to dismiss saying that the case was based mostly on the video that he described as "clear as mud." Bryant said there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the case.
DA Hatch argued that the court had heard testimony from the victim as well as a witness and added that the evidence was strong enough for the case to move forward.
Judge Warner said that the case fell squarely between probable cause and beyond a reasonable doubt. He said that the evidence need to be beyond a reasonable doubt and he granted Mr. Bryants motion and dismissed the charges against Mr. Kerley.