A Gainesville man was acquitted Tuesday by a Hall County jury in a misdemeanor theft by shoplifting case.
Billy Bromell, 55, was charged in November with theft in connection with allegedly taking an alternator from Complete Auto Parts on Atlanta Highway.
But what astonished his attorney, Senior Public Defender Travis Williams, was how the case landed on a felony case docket in Hall County Superior Court.
“That somebody got charged with a felony for calling and complaining to police, I think that would shock most people that it was even a possibility,” Williams said.
Bromell was charged with three counts of felony false statement stemming from the incident after contacting the Gainesville Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit and voicing some pointed thoughts on the contents of the incident report.
Gainesville police take reports to internal affairs seriously, police spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook said, and any allegation is looked into.
Sgt. Kevin Gaddis with internal affairs investigated Bromell’s allegation, among others, that the officer had failed to say in the report the auto parts employee told Bromell he could pay for the part later, according to previous agreements between the two.
The officer’s recorded conversations with the employee — the basis for the report — didn’t reflect Bromell’s version of events, and he was charged with three counts of false statement.
“Plenty of times we disagree with what somebody might do and we might call anybody to fix it. That’s our opinion; that’s our perspective,” Williams said. “For that to turn into something somebody could lose their liberty for was kind of shocking, and I wanted to do whatever I could to fix it.”
Williams’ involvement was actually the result of an encounter with Bromell when strolling through the Belk men’s department looking for a suit.
“Actually, Billy didn’t qualify for a public defender,” Williams said. “He came up to me at Belk and started telling me about his case. I helped him to reapply and he eventually qualified.”
“He coached with the Boys & Girls Clubs for a long time. Very interesting guy. You meet him, he’ll talk your ear off. That kind of friendly, outgoing person,” he added.
Williams said the case “seemed strange.”
“When it comes down to this case, it was a circumstance where this statute wasn’t meant to be applied,” he said. “His perspective was totally reasonable, and things just kind of snowballed.”
District Attorney Lee Darragh did not elaborate on the case other than to say “the charges in the case were supported by the evidence.”
Williams said Bromell is glad to put the incident behind him. Each of the three false statement counts carried a maximum five-year sentence, plus one year on the shoplifting charge.
“I think generally people want to do the right thing. ... Luckily, the jurors did the right thing,” Williams said.