Craft P.I. sues Catoosa County, claims malicious prosecution - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Craft P.I. sues Catoosa County, claims malicious prosecution

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The private investigator arrested while working for Tonya Craft filed a half-million dollar federal suit against a dozen people involved in prosecuting the former kindergarten teacher's child molestation case.

The 41-page lawsuit, filed on behalf of Eric Echols, names Catoosa County, Georgia as a defendant, along with prosecutors, detectives, Catoosa sheriff Phil Summers and state witness Sandra Lamb.

Craft's attorneys hired the Atlanta P.I. to help build her defense and he appeared to be doing just that, until Catoosa County shut him down.

He was arrested in 2009 for witness tampering, while appearing in court to press assault charges against Lamb for swatting his cell phone out of his hand as he recorded the encounter outside her home.

Echols' complaint against Lamb went nowhere but at the end of the hearing detectives arrested Echols, in the middle of magistrate court.

Echols had gone to Lamb's house to serve her with legal papers.

"As I was walking to the porch, she ran inside, cause she saw me coming," Echols recalled.

His lawsuit claims Lamb avoided him because prosecutor Chris Arnt told her to, and that by giving legal advice, Arnt gave up his right to prosecutorial immunity.  

Arnt had Echols arrested for interviewing the dad of a Craft accuser. Echols remains adamant the conversations were friendly, even welcome, and he has audio recordings to back up his claims.  

Catoosa County prosecutors called it "intimidating a witness" and got a grand jury indictment against Echols.

Transcripts of Echols' recorded conversations show the dad told Echols he wanted no part in the case against Tonya Craft.

He admitted that again, under oath, during Craft's trial.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Clancy Covert, the dad claimed prosecutor Arnt said he no choice but to testify for the state against Craft.  

Craft jurors never heard Echols' recorded conversations with the dad. As soon as he was arrested, a judge ordered Echols to stay away from everyone involved in the case, preventing him from testifying for her defense.

"You know, I was doing my job. They were going after her, it didn't work, and I got caught up in the web," is the way Echols describes it. "Someone made a comment and said I was ‘collateral damage' like shrapnel."

Catoosa County eventually dropped the case against Echols, but he had to hire a lawyer. He also says there's work waiting for him in North Carolina and Tennessee, but it's difficult to get a state P.I. license with an arrest on his record. He's hoping this lawsuit will help cover the burdensome expenses he's incurred as a result of the arrest.

A call to district attorney Buzz Franklin wasn't returned. No one from Franklin's office has returned any of our calls since Craft was acquitted 18 months ago.


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