By Bethany Anderson
On Wednesday, May 29 Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons faced Judge Ray Conklin at the Johnson County Courthouse for Obstruction of Justice charges, which ended in a dismissal due to the court finding a lack of intent of obstruction on the Mayor’s part. The stage was set with Attorney Leon Marshall represented the prosecution, and Attorney Perry Stout (who is also the Johnson County Attorney) represented Parsons. The only members of the public in attendance were two of Parsons’ family members.
The trial was for a case that originated with a traffic stop of Parsons’ vehicle on December 22, 2018. Parsons was driving southwest on State Hwy 67 when Johnson County Sheriff Deputy Joshua Peters stopped him. According to Peters’ testimony, the Deputy had just completed a traffic stop on another vehicle and was at or near Dewey Christian Church facing South West on the highway. He stated that Parsons’ vehicle passed him at “a high rate of speed,” so he proceeded to follow him. Peters stated that he “paced” Parsons’ vehicle traveling at speeds of at least 67mph in a 45mph zone. The vehicle was also observed crossing the centerline several times. Peters then reportedly made the decision to pull over the car.
The traffic stop was conducted at or near Bethany Baptist Church. Peters’ testimony continued to state that when he approached Parsons’ vehicle he “shined his flashlight on both the driver and passenger” as he “advised the driver (Parsons) of the reasons he was stopped.” When the light shone on the passenger, he “turned away from the light as not to show his face.” Peters testified that Parsons was “argumentative and refused to name his passenger.” The entire traffic stop was recorded on Deputy Peters’ body cam, and the video with audio was played in entirety for the court.
The following is a transcript of the Deputy’s body cam footage:
Johnson County Sheriff Deputy Peters: Who you got with you?
Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons: A friend. You doing all right?
Peters: Has he got a name?
Parsons: Just a friend of mine.
Peters: (to passenger) You got an ID on you?
Parsons: I don’t.
Peters: (to passenger) What’s your name?
Passenger – Kenneth Cornett: (no response)
Peters: (to passenger) What’s your name?
Parsons: Do you have to give it? Does he have to give it or… (indiscernible)?
Peters: I need his ID too.
Parsons: Are we being detained? Why are we being detained?
Peters: I just want to know who I’m talking to.
Parsons: You know me.
Peters: I do know you, but I don’t know him. You can’t give me his name?
Parsons: I prefer not to, just the simple fact that you don’t have to. It’s just part of the constitution. I’ve seen videos online, and you don’t have to if they’ve not been charged with a crime themselves.
Deputy Peters then stepped away from the vehicle to radio dispatch. He can be heard explaining the situation to Sheriff Tester over the radio. Tester then responded by saying, “Tell them you need to know who’s in the car.” Shortly after, Sheriff Tester arrived on the scene.
When Tester arrived, he was on a phone call with Parsons. Parsons recorded this phone call, and a brief portion of it was played for the court.
The recorded portion of the phone call from Kevin Parsons to Sheriff Eddie Tester is as follows:
Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons: “Is that a law that they have to?”
Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester: “No, it’s not a law.”
Sheriff Tester arrived on scene at the traffic stop, and the following is the continued transcript
from Deputy Peters’
body cam video:
Parsons: (to Peters) Did you get a hold of Eddie?
Tester: I’m here.
Parsons: (no response)
Tester: Is this your brother in law in there?
Parsons: I don’t know. I’m not at liberty to say.
Tester: Got a warrant on him if it’s your brother in law.
Peters: If I look at the warrant and it is him, you’ll be charged with a felony for telling me you don’t know who he is.
Parsons: I don’t know.
Tester: You don’t know if it’s your brother in law?
Parsons: It’s my brother in law, yes, but I don’t have to tell you who it is. As far as being a passenger in my vehicle, I don’t have to tell you who he is.
The passenger was then asked to exit the vehicle. He was identified as Kenneth B. Cornett. Mr. Cornett was taken into custody on the scene with his arrest warrant for non-payment of child support. Parsons was given a verbal warning about his driving and was released. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department later charged Parsons with “Obstruction of Justice.” He was arrested on January 8, 2019, and bond was set at $2,500.00. The charge was changed to “Obstruction of Service Process” at trial.
According to his testimony during the trial, Deputy Peters had previously talked with Parsons about the arrest warrant for Cornett when he attempted to serve Cornett with the warrant, as Parsons’ address was co-listed on the warrant. Parsons said he knew of the warrant and had told his brother in law (Cornett) to “do the right thing.”
In closing arguments, Prosecuting Attorney Leon Marshall cited a previous case that showed precedence for officers to ask for ID from passengers as well as drivers. He also mentioned that it is illegal to prevent officers from knowing identifications or lying to them when questioned. Marshall also pointed out that the previous conversation between Deputy Peters and Mayor Parsons proved that Parsons knew his brother in law (Cornett) was wanted by the Johnson County Sheriff Department at the time of the traffic stop on December 22, 2018.
Defense Attorney Perry Stout responded to this by stating, “Mr. Parsons does not have a civic duty to help police serve a warrant.” He also pointed out that to prove “Obstruction of Service Process,” the prosecution would have to prove that Parsons “intentionally prevented an officer from serving justice.” Upon making his ruling, Judge Conklin made the following statement: “Obviously not a good look for the Mayor of the town to not be fully cooperative. There’s no doubt from listening to the video and phone call that there’s some evasiveness. To me, the most damaging testimony is that “He’s a friend.” and those kind of answers. This court cannot find that there was intent. So, this case is dismissed.”
Parsons released the following statement a few hours following the trial, “I would like to go on the record and say this: We have the greatest judicial system in the world, and it works. The court made the right decision and now I along with my family are looking forward to getting this behind us and as Mayor, looking forward to continuing promoting Mountain City and the wonderful community we live in.”