Holli Bragg jail-050611Listen to Holli Deal Bragg - Heres why I was arrested
As police reporter for the Statesboro Herald, I type thousands of arrests that go in the paper every year. I've joked about putting my own name in the paper, though I was confident I would never commit a crime that would require doing so. I still do not feel as if I committed a crime, but I was arrested Monday morning.
The arrest was for criminal trespass and I put my own name in Tuesday's Herald.
Here's the story. In 1982, my mom bought property that was out of a foreclosure. She did not know the former owner, who was losing the property, had sold a parcel of it to his cousin. When he did that, the septic tank that was connected to our two houses was on a separate property than the homes to which it was attached.
We never knew that until we had problems in 2002 and discovered the septic lines crossed property lines. There was nowhere else for us to put a tank, and the drain fields totally consumed the two lots then owned by someone else.
The owner was unhappy and offered us a price to buy it that was triple its value. He then hauled in a mobile home that was never hooked up to my septic system.
My family maintained this property ever since 1982: cut the grass, kept it up, etc., and used it as if it were our own. No one ever came around and mom did not want it to become an eyesore. No one ever heard from the various owners until he came around in 2002.
The owner learned he could not legally disconnect our septic tank from our homes, but did so anyway. We reconnected it, as our lawyer directed. This happened several times until a judge said to leave the septic lines as they were.
The legal dispute stressed me so much I was admitted to the hospital for a solid week with incredible migraines. I thought I had a brain tumor. But after months of legal fights, I won the right to prescriptive easement in Superior Court with Judge Gates Peed. As I understood then and understand now, that gave me the right to continue using, and maintaining, the property.
Also, my attorney, Joe Neville Jr. who is now Candler County's state court solicitor, advised me to continue to use the property as I always had. I did so from 2003 to now, just as we have used it for 29 years.
Back in the 80s, occasionally we kept a pony or two on the property to keep the grass down. When mom moved away from the lake and I assumed ownership of the property, we continued to use the boat ramp, keep trees trimmed and grass cut.
A couple of years ago I erected a temporary fence, and when the owner's sons, who inherited the property after his death, complained his family could not reach a boat ramp, I removed the fence.
However, if you do not maintain use of the property, you lose prescriptive easement. If someone cuts across your yard without your permission, and does it regularly, in a matter of time he will own rights to that property for that use. Either stop them or give permission.
I erected another temporary fence to hold rescue horses after a former rescue space I was using was sold. This angered the owners, although my reason for placing them there was to have the horses clear the property. As I understood, I had the legal right to use it. I asked to discuss the matter, but got nowhere.
However, apparently Peed's office never filed a final document regarding prescriptive easement. So, the nice Judge Preston Exley at Magistrate Court told me Monday morning that while he felt badly about having to do so, he was forced to sign the arrest warrant because I had no written proof of Peed's ruling or my attorney's advice that I could use the property.
Even after accepting the fact that I was arrested, I tried to discuss the matter of the land with the owners but again I got nowhere. Their attorney did not allow me to address them.
So, I was arrested for criminal trespass even though I did not commit a crime. We will have our day in court.
I had an interesting trip to the jail and learned how it works on the "other side." One thing I discovered is that jail food is not the slop people claim it is. I had them pull a tray from the cart that was being sent to inmates for the sole purpose of seeing for myself what is served.
It was meat loaf, a large piece of cornbread, sweet peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, and light bread. So now I know, and it tasted pretty good, although I really did not feel much like eating!
Everyone was extremely nice. Maybe it was because they knew me. Maybe it was because they are just nice people. Sure, when inmates broke rules like walking out of a room without asking permission from trustees, they were admonished. That's understandable. I was by no means treated without respect.
My mom was with me during the ordeal and bonded me out. I never cried, but yes, I wanted to and probably will later on.
Perhaps I could have hidden this from my boss, hoping he and others would never know. I could have kept this to myself and possibly never been caught. However, my job is so important to me that I treated myself just like I would anyone else - you get arrested, you get your name in the paper. Our disclaimer states arrests are not proof of guilt, and I will be talking to Peed and Neville before my court date. I still maintain I have done nothing illegal.
But, hopefully, people will see that by putting my own name in the police blotter - not buried in the middle, but the first name listed - I have proven my integrity is worth more to me than the Soundoffs and gossip surely to come.
I'm looking on the bright side - it was an experience I never thought I would have, and hopefully won't ever again!