Jeffersonville man launched into spouse’s custody after alleged highway rage capturing
A Jeffersonville man will be released into the custody of his wife after he turned himself in to police on Wednesday, some six weeks after authorities said he shot at and recklessly tailgated another driver and their passenger in a midday road rage incident.
At an arraignment Thursday in Lamoille County Superior criminal court, Jermaine Morris, 41, pleaded not guilty to six charges, including two counts each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, one count of negligently operating a vehicle and one of carrying a dangerous weapon with the intent to injure another person.
During the arrangement, Lamoille County Deputy State’s Attorney Aliena Gerhard said the state would seek an additional charge of unlawfully possessing a firearm because Morris is not allowed to have a gun after a 2003 felony conviction in Pennsylvania.
Morris was being held at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St Albans Town. Judge Michael Harris ruled to release him under a number of conditions, including a 24-hour curfew at home with exceptions for medical treatment and court business.
He also may not possess or use firearms or other dangerous weapons, or have contact with the other driver and their passenger involved in the alleged road rage incident.
As Morris’ court-appointed custodian, Morris’ wife, Ashante, must “be in his presence at all times,” Harris said. Ashante Morris must report any violations of the conditions of her husband’s release to the police, the judge said, or she could be held in contempt of court.
Ashante Morris testified at the arrangement with the couple’s 3-year-old daughter sitting in her lap. She said she works for the US Department of Homeland Security and believes she’d lose her job and security clearance if she was convicted of a crime.
“It sounds like you would have a very strong interest in making sure that you fulfilled your obligations as a custodian,” said Rory Malone, the attorney who represented Jermaine Morris, while questioning Ashante Morris during the arraignment.
“Absolutely,” Ashante Morris replied. “I can’t afford to lose my job.”
Ashante Morris told the court she was already planning to work from home for at least the next month. If she has to leave home for errands or child care, she said a friend who lives in Stowe is willing to stay at the house in her place to watch her husband.
Harris said that person would need to appear before the court before they could fill in for Ashante Morris as Jermaine Morris’ custodian.
The Lamoille County State’s Attorney had asked for Jermaine Morris to be held without bail, or, in the event he was released, for the court to impose $25,000 bail.
Bail was initially set at $25,000, though Harris reduced it to $15,000.
Gerhard, the deputy state’s attorney, said a relief from abuse petition that had been previously filed and granted against Jermaine Morris, and his felony conviction, should factor into the judge’s decision on whether or not to release him.
Malone, Jermaine Morris’ attorney, said the allegations in the petition were “merely statements” and his client had not had a chance to tell his side of the story. It was not made clear during the court hearing when the petition had been filed and granted.
“I don’t believe that they have the credibility that the court should rely on to suggest that someone is at risk of violence upon his release,” Malone said.
Harris later said that the petitioner did not appear to have contacted law enforcement or filed criminal charges, but that the petition nevertheless contributed to his concern that Jermaine Morris posed a risk of violence.
Ultimately, the judge said he found Ashante Morris’ testimony “generally credible.”
“I’m putting my faith in Ms. Morris here,” he told the court.
According to court documents, the alleged road rage incident happened at about 11 am on April 18 and involved Jermaine Morris, 28-year-old Cody Edwards and 27-year-old Karina Duran.
Edwards told police he and Duran, who is his girlfriend, were driving on Smugglers View Road when Jermaine Morris drove toward them at a high rate of speed and began tailgating them, according to court documents. Edwards became frustrated, he told police, so he pulled over at the intersection with Edwards Road, got out of the car and asked Jermaine Morris “what the problem was.”
Jermaine Morris replied that he had “kids in the car” and began yelling at Edwards, the 28-year-old told police. Jermaine Morris then allegedly approached Edwards’ vehicle and yelled at Duran, before coming up to Edwards and ripping off his sweatshirt.
Edwards then punched Jermaine Morris near his face and threw him to the ground, he told police, holding him there for about 45 seconds until Morris said “he was done.”
Jermaine Morris then got back into his car and, allegedly, drove straight toward Edwards, who told the police he could have been struck if he hadn’t dove out of the way.
Both cars drove away from the intersection in opposite directions. But Edwards said as he and Duran continued driving, Jermaine Morris approached their car again “at a high rate of speed” and started tailgating them and “driving erratically.”
Jermaine Morris then stuck his arm out of his window and fired “approximately five rounds” toward Edwards and Duran’s vehicle, court documents say.
Edwards told police he and Duran “feared for their lives and wanted to just get away.” He said he could hear “clinging sounds” on his vehicle but wasn’t sure if they came from small rocks or bullets.
Police did not describe any injuries in court documents.
Officials later found a shell casing on the ground off Edwards Road at the location Edwards alleged Jermaine Morris fired shots, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
In addition, a nearby homeowner told police he saw what looked like a road rage incident on Edwards Road at the time and heard four to five gunshots, court documents show.
Police said that about a week after the road rage incident, they saw a rental car parked in Jermaine and Ashante Morris’ driveway, which troopers later determined had been rented by Ashante Morris about an hour after the incident took place.
When questioned by police, Ashante Morris said she rented the car because Jermaine Morris had taken her vehicle to New York. At the arraignment, Ashante Morris said her husband was in New York doing work in the music industry, and that the last day she saw him was April 18, the day of the alleged road rage incident.
She also said she did not believe she had heard from him either by text or phone, from that day until Wednesday this week, when he turned himself in to police.
Police said Ashante Morris allowed them to search her house, though they did not find the gun used in the alleged shooting. They also asked Ashante Morris to let them know if she saw or heard from her husband.
Ashante Morris said she had regular contact with a state trooper.
“He would check in almost daily to see if I had any contact with (Jermaine),” she said in court. “And I didn’t. But at no point did I ignore him, or brush him off, or anything like that.”
According to court documents, on April 29, police found a car registered to Ashante Morris — the one her husband had taken to New York — abandoned on a road in Underhill. Ashante Morris told police she was upset when she found out about the abandoned vehicle, and worried for her husband’s safety since “he does not know anybody in the area.”
Ashante Morris said police did not tell her there was a warrant out for her husband’s arrest. An affidavit of probable cause also makes no mention of an arrest warrant.
Malone also said Jermaine Morris was not aware there was a warrant for his arrest until he read about it in a newspaper, which is what led him to turn himself in.
Vermont State Police said in a May 12 press release that a judge had issued a warrant for Jermaine Morris’ arrest in connection with the road rage incident that week.
The attorney also argued there was “absolutely no indication” Jermaine Morris had posed a threat to the victims of the alleged road rage incident or other people in the community in the six weeks between April 18 and when he surrendered to police.
In addition, he said that since Ashante Morris had cooperated with the police during their investigation she likely would contact the police again if her husband were to violate the conditions of his release.
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