Magistrate Under Fire

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

January 11, 2006

Two incidents in the last few weeks has the local magistrate under fire tonight.

When police arrest someone they take that person to the regional jail. There the suspect meets with the magistrate, who decides whether the person is held or let out on bond.

Police say recently the magistrate has let a couple of violent offenders go free when they should have been kept behind bars.

Two men accused of completely separate crimes find themselves at the heart of a controversy over whether the magistrate is too lenient.

"Both of these individuals had significant contacts and history with police such that it should have raised certain flags," said Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo.

While on probation for shooting into an occupied building and discharging a firearm from a vehicle, Lonnie Cooper is charged with sexual battery. Cops picked him up in December on a court order and the magistrate let him go.

"The warrant specifically said [that Cooper] was to be held without bond, yet he was released," said Longo.

Then Barry Seward is arrested in January on outstanding warrants for car jacking his uncle at gunpoint, beating him and threatening him. When he was brought in, the magistrate released him on an unsecured bond.

"By that afternoon he was back at the very same house, where he assaulted the young lady who lived there and it the issuance of another warrant and a protective order. And this is an individual that probably should have been held, based on his criminal history," said Longo.

We did contact the head magistrate and she was willing to comment on the story but was not available today. Police plan to speak with the magistrate about these incidents.

"We're compiling...a list of concerns and issues and at the appropriate time we'll share them with the magistrate?s office so that we can work together to make sure these kinds of things don't happen again," said Longo.

In the end justice may have prevailed. Wednesday Lonnie Cooper was sentenced to one year and 18 months in prison. As for Barry Seward, he turned himself in last night and a judge Wednesday denied him bond.

The Head Magistrate was contacted by press and she was willing to comment on this story, but was not available today.

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