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Prosecutor's Quick Thinking Saves Abuse Survivor During Zoom Hearing

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The prosecutor’s spot-on instincts saved the day during this domestic abuse Zoom hearing

A virtual court hearing in Michigan took a nerve-wracking turn when the prosecutor interrupted proceedings and caught the defendant at his accuser’s home during the hearing. The incident calls into question how often things like this may be occurring as hearings like this have gone virtual during the past year.

Coby James Harris is accused of assault with intent to commit bodily harm less than murder, following an incident on Feb. 9 in Sturgis. He was present for the Zoom hearing along with Mary Lindsey, the reported survivor of his assault, Judge Jeffrey Middleton, Deborah Davis, assistant to the prosecuting attorney and the lawyer representing Lindsey, Harris’s defense lawyers, and police.

Harris’s felony charge carries a prison term of up to 10 years for a first offense, and 15 years for a “habitual” offender. Lindsey said on record that the assault stemmed from a brief argument at a residence in Sturgis. According to Lindsey, she and Harris had been dating at the time.

A few minutes into the proceedings, Davis interrupted and said she believed Lindsey and Harris were in the same proximity during the livestream, based on Lindsey’s answers and body language.

“Your Honor … I have reason to believe that the defendant is in the same apartment as the complaining witness right now, and I am extremely scared for her safety,” Davis said. “The fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around, I want some confirmation that she is safe before we continue.”

The judge then asked Lindsey where she was at that moment.

“Um, I’m at a house,” Lindsey said. “It’s my house.” She then gave her address after the judge demanded it.

The police officer who was participating in the Zoom hearing began talking to another officer on the phone, though his mic was muted. The officer on the other end of the line was sent to Lindsey’s home.

Harris denied he was at Lindsey’s home, but also refused to take a photo of the house number of the home he said he was at, and told the judge that his battery was low and his phone was plugged into a wall charger.

Then, Davis told the court that police officers were knocking on the door of Lindsey’s apartment.

“Ms. Lindsey, would you go answer the door?” the judge asked.

“Take your phone with you so that we know you’re OK,” Davis told her.

She walks to the door and answers it, but then her phone connection seems to drop. Harris also disappeared from the call. Davis called to adjourn the hearing as everyone involved sat on-screen in silence for a few minutes, waiting to see what was unfolding in Lindsey’s home. When the livestream returned, Harris was being handcuffed by officers on the scene.

“Your Honor, me and Mary both don’t want the no-contact,” Harris said as he was being apprehended. “I ask that be dropped. I’m sorry I lied to you. I knew the cops were outside. I don’t know why I…”

The judge told Harris to stop talking, adjourned the hearing, and canceled Harris’s bond. He told Harris the prosecutor could also now add the charge of obstruction to justice to his existing charges.

“This is an issue we didn’t have when we were having live court … This is the first time, to my knowledge … that this has occurred,” Judge Middleton said. “Kudos to the Sturgis Police Department for following up on this. That’s the first time I ever had anybody sitting in the next room potentially intimidating a witness to assault.”

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