Long County State Court Judge Jeff Arnold ruled Wednesday that there was not sufficient evidence presented in a hearing to charge Ludowici City Councilman Frank McClelland Jr. with simple assault from recent allegations by former Ludowici City Clerk Tara Manning.
“Like he said, there was no criminal intent and that is what I have said from the beginning,” McClelland said.
Manning had filed for a warrant on McClelland in the Long County Magistrate Office, alleging assault. On Tuesday, Arnold heard Manning and McClelland’s sides of the incident that allegedly happened on Dec. 5, following a city council meeting.
Manning told Arnold that at the meeting, McClelland told her she had been suspended from her job as clerk, and that he told her to sign a paper informing her of the suspension. She said she asked him for a copy to keep. Manning said that as she was running the copy, McClelland reached across her to get the paper, almost knocking her down. She said that after the contact, she told him to never touch her again or she would fight back.
Manning called Richard Robertson, Whitney McGowan, Brenda Truman, Janis Goode and Fred Goode as witnesses. They all said they heard a “rustling” in the room where the incident allegedly occurred and heard Manning threaten McClelland. But they all said they were not in the room.
McClelland told Arnold he was with Manning as she made the copy, but he did not put his hands on her. He said the copy she made fell to the floor, and he picked it up. He denied reaching across her. McClelland’s attorney, Joe Kitchings, said McClelland, who is a deputy with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, is trained to remain restrained when stressed, that he is a distinguished officer and that there was no criminal intent.
Arnold said in the hearing that both sides essentially told the same story, just from their own perspectives. The judge told them he felt the contact had been incidental, and that McClelland’s purpose was to get the paper, not to hurt Manning.
After the hearing, both Manning and McClelland said they were satisfied.
“The judge made a fair decision. I don’t think that Frank purposely did what he did. But he has been in law enforcement long enough to know what he did was wrong, and he shouldn’t have ever put his hands on a woman,” Manning said.
McClelland said, “At no time did I ever intentionally do any harm to Ms. Manning. I apologize to her if she perceived it that way. I only wanted to retain a copy of the paperwork.
“I do want everyone to understand that in my position as a member of the city council I deal with difficult situations at times such as this employee suspension.”
Manning was one of seven Ludowici employees who lost their jobs when the council voted to not renew their contracts this week.