By Russ Bynum | The Associated Press
(AP) – A Georgia sheriff pleaded guilty Monday to groping TV Judge Glenda Hatchett, who recalled being so stunned that she froze when the lawman grabbed and squeezed her breast at a hotel bar last year during a law enforcement conference.
Bleckley County Sheriff Kristopher Coody pleaded guilty in Cobb County State Court to a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery and was sentenced to a year on probation, news outlets reported. He also resigned from the office he had held since 2017.
“He so violated me, and at that moment I felt so powerless,” Hatchett told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday after the hearing. “I see myself as a strong woman. I have never been a victim, and I felt it was important for there to be accountability.”
An Atlanta attorney, Hatchett starred in the courtroom reality shows “Judge Hatchett” and “The Verdict With Judge Hatchett.” She also represented the family of Philando Castile, a black driver who was shot dead by a Minnesota police officer in a Twin Cities suburb, in a highly publicized lawsuit.
In January 2022, she attended a meeting of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association as the guest of a retired Georgia sheriff who introduced her to several colleagues. One of the sheriffs she met at the convention hotel’s bar outside Atlanta was Coody.
Hatchett said she told Coody she wasn’t sure where his home county was located. The sheriff pointed a finger at her chest, she said, and replied: “In the heart of Georgia.” She said he then repeated those words as he grabbed her left breast and began squeezing and rubbing it.
Hatchett said she froze in shock and that it was her host, former DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who grabbed Coody’s arm and pulled it away from her.
“It happened on a Tuesday, and by Thursday morning I could not get out of bed,” Hatchett said. “So I started counseling literally that evening.”
She reported the incident to Cobb County authorities, who obtained a warrant for Coody’s arrest. The case had been pending in court until the sheriff’s plea Monday.
Hatchett sat in the courtroom’s front row as Judge Carl Bowers sentenced Coody to serve one year on probation, pay a $500 fine and perform 400 hours of community service. The sheriff’s attorney, Joel Pugh, said Coody sent a resignation letter Monday morning to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they were victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward. Hatchett said she felt compelled to speak out in part because many women cannot.
“I don’t want to be the poster woman for this, but I think it’s important for me to be very candid,” she said, adding: “It’s important that other victims see me holding him accountable.”
Coody had served since 2017 as sheriff of Bleckley County, a rural community of about 12,000 people located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Macon.