court

An Eclectic man was found guilty of trafficking methamphetamines Monday.

Norman Southerland, 59, was a passenger in a vehicle found to be speeding by a deputy with the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Department on U.S. Highway 280 in January 2018.

Former deputy sheriff Win Knight testified he clocked a vehicle going more than 80 MPH traveling westbound just east of Dadeville as he was traveling eastbound. Knight turned around to pursue the vehicle carrying Southerland but it wasn’t until Lafayette Street Knight was able to catch up to the car, noticing an open container of beer in the console allowing a search of the car. Tina Ward of Eclectic was driving the car.

“She was nervous when stopped,” Knight said from the witness stand.

Knight testified Monday Ward consented to a search of the vehicle. Knight also testified law enforcement officers from other agencies aided in the stop.

Then Camp Hill police officer John Sutherland aided in the search of the car. Sutherland testified he searched the passenger area of the car including the glove box finding a hole where a baggy of methamphetamines was hidden. Sutherland began to pull the bag out. It weighed in at 117 grams, above the 28 gram limit for trafficking methamphetamine.

Knight testified Southerland told him Southerland was making payments on the car and had insurance on it but it belonged to someone else. Knight also testified the glove box was empty except for an actuator that Southerland identified.

Following the traffic stop and the arrest of Southerland and Ward, the suspects were transported to the Tallapoosa County Jail. Drugs were then found in the patrol vehicles. Southerland’s transport was found to have ecstasy pills in it, but no law enforcement officer testified to the vehicle being clear before Southerland’s transport.

Narcotics were also found on Ward and in the patrol vehicle transporting her. Knight testified his patrol vehicle was clear of narcotics when he put Ward in his vehicle.

Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force officer Chad Jones testified the traffic stop was unusual because of the amount of drugs found.

“For our county, it’s not our largest (find) but it’s substantial, especially since it came from patrol,” Jones said.

Both Southerland and Ward had charges related to the possession of drugs by Ward but Southerland’s defense attorney Chad Harrison argued Southerland was never in possession of any of the drugs found that night.

Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Issac Wharton agreed with Harrison on some of the charges. Wharton acquitted Southerland of several counts of possession of drugs found either on Ward during the booking search at the Tallapoosa County Jail or in the patrol vehicle that transported Ward. Wharton did allow the jury to take up the Class A felony of trafficking methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance related to ecstasy and tampering with physical evidence related to leaving the ecstasy behind in the patrol vehicle that transported Southerland.

A Tallapoosa County jury took one hour to find Southerland guilty of trafficking methamphetamine and not guilty on charges of possession of a controlled substance and tampering with physical evidence.

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.