The mayor and police chief of Springfield have been given a choice — they can avoid going to trial in a few months on multiple charges if they resign their positions and plead guilty to malfeasance in office.
In March 2011, a then-town police officer reported feeling pressured by the men to drop a drunken driving charge as a favor to a friend of the mayor, according to a police report. Chief James Jones and Mayor Charles Martin have each been charged with obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice, injuring public records and criminal conspiracy to injure public records. They have pleaded not guilty.
The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case after the local District Attorney’s Office recused itself. Thursday, AG spokesman Steven Hartmann confirmed the state offered a deal to allow the chief and mayor to plead guilty to misdemeanor malfeasance if they also agree to step down. No agreement has been reached, Hartmann said.
Jones’ trial is set to begin April 28. Martin’s is scheduled to start June 15.
On March 10, 2011, Officer Ryan Weaver pulled over Tyra Jones and performed a Breathalyzer test on her during which she blew 0.185, according to the officer’s report. In Louisiana, a 0.08 blood alcohol level is considered presumptive evidence of driving while intoxicated.
As he filled out the paperwork for a DWI arrest, Weaver got a phone call from a man identified only as Gary who asked if he could do anything to keep Tyra Jones out of jail. When Weaver said no, the man told him he was going to “call Charlie Martin and wake him up in order to help him get Tyra out of trouble,” Weaver’s report states.
Martin came to the town hall, where Weaver was working and asked if there was anything the officer could do to “help” him, to which Weaver replied no, his report states. Weaver then saw Martin walk outside and speak to Gary in the parking lot.
The following morning, James Jones called Weaver into his office and said the mayor wanted to know if “Ryan (Weaver) had a problem with” him, the report states. Martin later came in and asked Weaver the same question himself, to which the officer replied that he did not.
“Mayor Martin then asked Chief James Jones if anything could possibly be done or if it was possible for the paperwork for the D.W.I. arrest not be turned in to the State of Louisiana DMV or the Livingston Parish D.A.’s Office,” the report states.
The police chief said it was possible that “all the paperwork could be thrown away” and the driver’s license be returned, which Weaver said made him “uncomfortable,” he wrote.
The officer vowed to complete his paperwork and what they did with it after “was on them,” the report states.
James Jones said “he understood and that he would ‘take care of it,’ ” Weaver wrote in the report.
A week later, Martin approached Weaver and asked if they could “(take) care of his friend” and drop the DWI charge down to reckless operation. Weaver said he “feared for the safety of his employment,” having been approached three times, and agreed to write the new citation.
He said he saw the chief unseal his original report, put it in the garbage and walk out of the building with Tyra Jones’ license. Weaver later recovered the trashed paperwork.
“This is not one of those old-boy gangs,” Martin’s attorney, Lance Unglesby, said Thursday afternoon.
“I think he (the mayor) was being a nice guy, trying to help somebody out. … He believed that the officer had discretionary authority to decide what to charge a person with.”
The lawyer said the mayor never pressured Weaver or threatened his job.
“He simply made a request. … The officer should have said that he can’t do that by law, but he didn’t.”
Martin went up for re-election in 2013, after the alleged events occurred, and ran without opposition.
“I’d hate to see the citizens of Springfield lose a mayor as popular as him,” Unglesby said. “Our concern is that there would be a huge void in the leadership of the community if he were to resign as mayor.”
James Jones and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
In July 2011, the chief told The Advocate, “I ain’t going nowhere. … I am not planning on resigning.”
When asked if the plea deal would bar James Jones or Martin from running or being appointed to their offices in the future, Hartmann said he couldn’t discuss specifics because the sides had not yet agreed to terms.
Last May, a Tangipahoa Parish School Board member pleaded guilty to theft and tax evasion and, as part of a deal with the AG’s Office, was ordered to resign his position.
Six months later, he ran for re-election and won back the seat because the deal did not preclude him from running again.
Before he took office, a judge permanently banned him from the board, and now the parish will host a special election to fill the position.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.