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Troy West gets early release from jail

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Troy Dale West, the Poulan, Ga., man accused of beating an U.S. Army reservist in a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Morrow last year, has been let out of his six-month jail sentence just 43 days after taking a plea deal in the case, according to the sheriff whose jail was tasked with holding him.

West took a plea deal and accepted guilt on Oct. 22, for four misdemeanors for attacking Tasha Hill in the restaurant in September 2009. He was sentenced in October of this year to serve six months in jail by a Clayton County Superior Court judge. The case has carried racial overtones because West is a white male, and Hill is an African-American female.

West actually only had to serve four-and-a-half months because he was given credit for 40 days he spent in jail for the crime last year, when he was first arrested, and indicted. He was transferred to the jail in Worth County, his home county, just after he took the plea deal. Clayton County Jail officials said, at the time, the transfer was done because of concerns about West's safety.

Forty-three days after he took the plea deal, on the evening of Dec. 3, he was released from the Worth County Jail, because of his participation in a prison work-release program, according to Worth County Sheriff Freddie Tompkins.

Tompkins said West got credit for one day off his sentence for every day he worked with the county's public works department.

"That's the way we do it down here," Tompkins said. "I didn't treat him any differently than I would any other inmate in my jail. I didn't have any instructions to do anything different with him ... They [Clayton County law enforcement officials] brought him down here with a piece of paper that said 'six months to serve.' "

In all, West ended up serving 83 days, or just under three months, in jail for the attack on Hill, when the amount of time he spent in jail last year is added with the time in jail after his guilty plea.

He got the sentenced shortened by doing various chores, including repairing cars, vacuuming public buildings, sandblasting public spaces, according to Tompkins. The sheriff added that West got some extra credit -- an extra week knocked off his sentence -- for working late into the night clearing storm debris in late November, after a major storm passed through the area.

Local law enforcement officials said such deals are not uncommon, and West actually could have gotten a little better deal, if he had remained in the Clayton County Jail.

Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, and Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said it is not uncommon for prison inmates, who committed misdemeanors, to complete their jail sentences early, if they participate in a work-release program.

"I think every jail [in Georgia] does that," said Lawson. She declined to comment specifically on West's release, other than to say she had no input in the decision.

Kimbrough said if West had stayed in the Clayton County Jail, and participated in this county's work release program, he could have earned credit for up to 4 days of his sentence for every day he did work. Under that scenario, Kimbrough said, it is possible West could have gotten out of jail even sooner -- maybe even before Thanksgiving -- in Clayton County.

"If he participated in the program, and worked every day that was available to him, then, he could have been out in a month, or a month-and-a-half," Kimbrough said.

Tompkins said there was pressure in the Worth County community to make West's sentence easier, but he added that he did not bend to any pressure to make special accommodations for West. "There were people down here who wanted me to make special accommodations for him, such as letting him out of jail during the day, and having him come back at night, or letting him out early so he could spend Thanksgiving with his family, but I didn't," Tompkins said. "I have to treat my kinfolks the same, regardless of who they are."

Tompkins added that he is not related to West.

The case has attracted a lot of attention, largely because of its racial overtones. Supporters of Hill argue that the attack was racially motivated, citing that West yelled racial slurs at her during the attack, which took place in front of her then-7-year-old daughter. West and two witnesses to the attack testified, in October, that Hill spit on West before he attacked her. Hill denied spitting on West. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda V. Carter said at the end of the trial that she believed Hill did spit on West.

Hill's attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

State Rep. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said West's early release was a "travesty," however. Fort is part of a group that is seeking to get West charged with committing a federal hate crime for the attack.

"I don't think he should have been allowed to participate in the work-release program," Fort said. "What he did was so egregious, that he should have been treated differently ... He not only attacked Tasha Hill. He attacked the fiber of the community."

Fort said he believes West never should have been transferred out of the Clayton County Jail. He added that he is "strongly considering" introducing legislation next year that would require anyone convicted of assaulting another person to serve all of his, or her, sentence in the county where the attack took place.