A Laurel man is behind bars after being accused of molesting a young girl, then threatening to kill her if she told anyone.
Larry Gatlin, 47, was charged with molestation and is being held in the Jones County Adult Detention Center on $50,000 bond.
According to the arrest affidavit, the molestation occurred in August and was reported then at the Jones County Sheriff’s Department. Gatlin and his accuser and one other person were at a residence working outside when he sent one inside to get some water.
His young accuser was “in the playroom when Larry grabbed her, held her arms” and she “could not get loose and (he) put his hands between (her) shorts and panties,” according to the affidavit from her interview with a child specialist. Gatlin then said “he would kill (the other person) and f - - - her before he killed her,” according to the affidavit.
Gatlin was arrested on Aug. 23 and charged with molesting-touching a child for lustful purposes. He has been in jail ever since. No other details about the case were known. It wasn’t clear if Gatlin was a relative or friend of his accuser and it wasn’t known how old his accuser was.
A Leader-Call reporter requested information about the arrest the day after it appeared on the jail’s website. One request went to Maj. Jamie Tedford and at least four went to JCSD public relations specialist Allyson Knotts. Neither responded to the messages. Knotts is paid an annual salary of $37,000 to handle media requests for the sheriff.
On the Sheriff’s Department website, there is a section for press releases, but the last release to be published is dated Dec. 14.
In the past, the JCSD would send out press releases on most cases involving accusations of sex crimes and other serious offenses. The Leader-Call has not received any press releases from the JCSD by email since Sept. 26. Last month, the Leader-Call was removed from the JCSD’s group text to notify media of suspects’ initial appearances, press conferences and other news.
The Gatlin case was one of several affidavits that the Leader-Call requested from Jones County Justice Court back in September after requests for information or the incident reports from the JCSD were ignored. Incident reports are public documents.
Justice court clerk Stacy Walls agreed that the affidavits were also public record, but she said that all Freedom of Information Act requests had to go through Board of Supervisors attorney Danielle Ashley. Walls forwarded the information to Ashley, who discussed the release of the documents with sheriff’s department officials.
They told Ashley that “investigative reports” could not be released, but it was clearly indicated in emails that the Leader-Call was requesting “incident reports” from the sheriff’s department. The justice court affidavits that the Leader-Call later requested are read in open court. But sheriff’s department officials told Ashley that the information in the documents are part of an ongoing investigation and could not be released to the media.
After weeks of emailing back-and-forth, along with an email from the Administrative Office of Courts in Jackson confirming that the justice court affidavits could be released to the media, the documents were released to the Leader-Call. The affidavits were redacted by justice court officials and sheriff’s department officials first, though, to remove the names of victims and other information that can’t be released.
The Leader-Call already doesn’t release the names of alleged victims of sexual offenses, unless the victim or the victim’s parent/guardian agrees to it in order to talk about the allegations. Even when court papers do identify the victims, the Leader-Call doesn’t include their names or their relationship to the defendant, in order to protect their identity.
Justice court and the sheriff’s department both billed the Leader-Call for the time it took to redact the names in the three affidavits, each of which is two to three paragraphs. The Leader-Call paid $17.50 for the time it took agents of both entities to return the documents to Ashley, who then forwarded them back to the Leader-Call just before Christmas.