News 12 at 6 o'clock, July 10, 2012
MARTINEZ, Ga.---It's a story making national headlines. A Columbia County code enforcement officer has now been fired after walking into a home uninvited.
The entire thing is caught on home surveillance.
"This one is the actual camera he was caught on right here," Erica Masters shows off her surveillance system. Erica is thankful for the cameras that surround her home. Last week they caught an intruder in her home while she was asleep, only that intruder worked for the county.
"When I first woke up, all I saw was a big figure standing in my door way, almost as tall as the doorway itself," explains Erica.
"One of our code enforcement officers had entered her house without her permission while she was asleep," states Columbia County Administrator
On the video, you can see code enforcement officer Jimmy Vowell knock on the front door, then peek his head in when the door swings open.
"He opened the door, poked his head inside for a little while, looked around," describes Erica.
After a few more minutes of knocking and writing out a violation for not cutting the grass, Officer Vowell walks in and straight to Erica's bedroom doorway.
"It scared me out of my mind, I had no idea who was standing at my doorway," adds Erica. "Nobody ever wants to wake up and find someone in their house, much less in their bedroom."
According to his personnel file, Vowell originally denied to supervisors he entered the home, calling the situation "BS" once Erica showed them the video.
"Unfortunately there was some conflicting information in those two stories, initially there was a statement that he had not entered the house made to a supervisor," explains Johnson.
After an investigation, the county terminated Vowell for failing to follow policy and for making a false statement to a supervisor.
"We understand that people have the right to be secure in their own house. The county just felt like that it was such an egregious violation of our policy that there was just no way for us to allow him to keep his job," Johnson adds.
"It's a small victory, a very, very small victory. I just can't sleep anymore," Erica says.
The county handed the investigation over to the sheriffs office, but they found no evidence of criminal intent. Vowell, a 20 year law enforcement veteran, told investigators he thought he smelled something and wanted to check the home.
Many of Erica's neighbors are supporting her, leaving her letters. A professional landscaper has even offered to help with her yard until she can get a working lawn mower.
She's currently working on a civil lawsuit against the county.
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