DARLINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — There were four people inside the mobile home when a single gunshot broke the silence of the pine forest surrounding White Sands Circle on May 13, 2021. The shot happened sometime before 10:24 p.m. One of the four left the home in a body bag.
“You need to hurry because my daughter’s boyfriend just shot himself,” Jenny Jimenez shouted into her cell phone at a Darlington County dispatcher during the 911 call. “Please hurry, oh my God, please hurry,” Jimenez shouted having just seen Caleb James’ body lying on the floor of her daughter’s bedroom.
The 911 call runs 17 minutes. Most of that time is filled with a dispatcher talking Jimenez through CPR and helping her count chest compressions.
“All right listen to me, start counting out loud, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one — count with me so you can make sure you’re doing it right,” the dispatcher tells Jimenez.
Jimenez performed CPR for more than 11 minutes. At times she cried as she counted, continuing to press on James’ chest trying to save his life. “You’re doing a good job,” the dispatcher told Jimenez as she worked to keep Jimenez focused.
“It’s almost like he’s trying to take a breath,” Jimenez shouted into the phone. “Ok, what is he doing, tell me what he’s doing,” the dispatcher asked.
“He’s doing nothing.”
The recording shows it took the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office nine minutes to get to the scene. The first EMS unit arrived 15 minutes after the tones blared. There was nothing anyone could do to save Caleb James after his autopsy showed the bullet entered his mouth outside the right corner of his lips, ripped through his jawbone before lodging in the back of his brain.
The coroner’s office pronounced Caleb James dead before midnight.
Dispatch records show Investigator Heather Mays was the only investigator summoned to the scene. Mays worked for the sheriff’s office’s Criminal Investigations Division at the time and was on call that night. Mays got to the scene at 11:09 p.m. Mays cleared the White Sands Circle scene at 12:37 a.m.
Mays finished her work on the scene in one hour, 28 minutes. When the sheriff’s office left the scene, they’d determined Caleb James either shot himself on accident or he’d committed suicide. However, the official ruling on the manner of death wouldn’t come from the coroner’s office for some time.
The coroner wasn’t convinced the shooting was accidental and thought evidence inside the home and on the body showed someone else shot Caleb James.
MANNER OF DEATH: The coroner’s investigation
When the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office rolled away from White Sands Circle, the investigator and her boss, Major David Young, assumed there was no foul play in Caleb James’ death. The sheriff’s office determined that despite the coroner’s office hadn’t yet issued its ruling on the manner of death.
Major Young told Queen City News Chief Investigator Jody Barr when he and Mays left the shooting scene, the “consensus” was that James had shot himself. “It was the general consensus that night with everyone, even the Peavys, that the young man had shot himself, some type of way,” Young said during a Feb. 9 closed-door meeting inside the sheriff’s office.
Jessica and Brandon Peavy said neither ever spoke with Young that night and never discussed a scenario where they suggested their son shot himself.
We filed an open records request with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and obtained Mays’ training history report. The report shows one active certification: Class 1 Law Enforcement Officer, the basic law enforcement certification. Mays’ DUI, breathalyzer, and radar certifications show all are expired or inactive.
Mays’ training report shows no specialized training courses related to crime scene, evidence, or homicide investigations. We brought the report to the meeting with the sheriff to question him about Mays’ credentials to handle a shooting investigation.
Sheriff James Hudson initially agreed to participate in an on-camera interview with QCN on Feb. 9. Hudson invited Young and his chief deputy, Chad McInville, to the meeting to discuss the details of the Escobar investigation. Hudson would not allow us to unpack any cameras until the discussion was finished.
Queen City News spent more than two hours discussing the Escobar investigation with the sheriff and his two top deputies. We also detailed the findings of our ‘The Confession’ investigation. After detailing the Peavys’ complaints and the details of the coroner’s separate investigation, Sheriff James Hudson backed out of the on-camera interview.
Young said the deputy coroner on the scene that night also agreed with the “consensus” that James had shot himself and foul play wasn’t involved. The Peavys and Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee told said that was not true.
“The coroner comes up to me and he said, ‘This isn’t a suicide.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I don’t know but her story’s not adding up.’ I said, ‘There’s no possible way she could have done this.’ He said, ‘Her story’s not adding up,’ he said, ‘I’m not saying she did, but something’s not right about this,’” Jessica Peavy told Barr in an interview.
Peavy said she and her husband rushed to the scene that night after Jimenez called to tell them James shot himself. Peavy said she ran through the woods toward the mobile home, asking to see her son. Peavy said she saw Escobar standing near the home with her face covered in blood.
The coroner held those same suspicions as James’ body was driven back to the county morgue that night. Over the next several weeks, the Darlington County Coroner’s Office continued to investigate the case.
“The evidence didn’t point me in that direction. So that’s why I decided I would look otherwise,” Coroner Hardee told Barr. Hardee, who’s held his elected position since 2000, has worked hundreds of death cases. The deputy coroner he sent to the scene that night had, too.
Hardee was debriefed at his funeral home that night. “The investigator told me from the very beginning, this is what’s being told, and this is why I’m not buying into it at this time. And that’s where they started. It actually started in the field with one of the investigators. He had been at this thing a long time. He knew, as well as all of us did, that the story that was being told, didn’t fit the evidence.”
Hardee said his office spent the next few weeks fighting with the sheriff’s office over the body camera recordings from that night. The sheriff’s office refused multiple requests to provide the recordings, Hardee said. The sheriff’s office ultimately allowed Hardee’s investigators to take still images of some portions of the recordings, which showed James’ body lying on the floor of his girlfriend’s mobile home.
The images further fueled Hardee’s belief that James did not shoot himself. “It didn’t look like he had taken his own life; that he had actually pulled the trigger. I didn’t think he did,” Hardee said.
Under South Carolina law, the coroner’s office has the final say when it comes to determining the manner of death. If the corner rules a death accidental or a suicide, the law enforcement investigation typically ends. If the coroner rules a death a homicide, meaning someone died at the hand of another, the law enforcement investigation continues.
After the law enforcement investigation ends, a solicitor reviews the evidence to determine whether to file charges.
In this case, Hardee said the sheriff’s office had its mind made up that night that Caleb James had either died from suicide or an accidental shooting and left no room to consider any other theory. Hardee’s investigators never stopped pursuing their suspicions.
In late May, the coroner’s office was ready to take the next step in its investigation.
At this point, the sheriff’s office hadn’t conducted any follow-up interview with Escobar, according to Hardee. Aside from her mother and stepfather, Escobar was the only other person inside the home the night of the shooting and the only person inside the room with James when the shooting happened.
Major Young confirmed Mays administered gunshot residue tests, known as GSR, on the scene that night. Young said Mays assured him she tested Escobar and James, but the other two people inside the home were not tested.
In the weeks following the shooting, the sheriff’s office, and the coroner were in a standoff, although Hardee said that’s not the best word to describe what he called an “opposing view” between his office and the sheriff’s investigators regarding what happened that killed Caleb James.
“In the case of a stolen car, what the sheriff thinks matters, what his investigators think matters; that’s their domain. But in the case of a bullet hole in the head of an 18-year-old boy, that’s my domain, what I think matters,” Hardee told Barr.
Hardee sends James’ body off for an autopsy. Hardee later received the autopsy report from the pathologist; a report Hardee said confirmed his initial suspicions: Caleb James did not shoot himself. Hardee marked James’ death certificate with the manner of death indicated as a homicide.
The question now: at whose hand did Caleb James die?
Hardee had one last option to answer that but needed the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s polygrapher to help. “We asked her (Escobar) if she would be willing to go to Columbia and take the polygraph and she agreed. And she did it. She showed up and she took the polygraph,” Hardee said, admitting he was surprised Escobar agreed to take the June 2 polygraph as it was voluntary.
Escobar, who was still talking to the Peavys at the time, told them she was never interviewed by Darlington County law enforcement after the night of the shooting. “It never hurts to ask, Jody. You know, sometimes you’d be surprised what you can get if you just ask,” Hardee said.
Escobar left SLED in handcuffs. The polygraph result shows “Deception Indicated,” with the examiner writing that Escobar “confessed” that she was the one who shot James in the face on May 13. The report shows Escobar told SLED she and James “have a history of playing with the firearm when empty and acting like they are shooting each other.”
The night of the shooting, Escobar said James “cocked” the pistol, pointed it at her and pulled the trigger. James then handed Escobar the gun and assured Escobar it was unloaded, according to Escobar’s statement in the SLED report. When she pulled the trigger, the gun fired.
Escobar also told SLED James was “depressed” and threatened to kill himself before and that she wanted to tell this story from the start but was too “scared” to tell it.
We made multiple attempts to interview Cassie Escobar for this report. Her mother responded to a text from Barr asking to speak with Escobar for this report. Jennifer Jimenez responded in a Jan. 6 text, “I cannot talk about my daughter’s case [sic] but I will say every story has 2 sides. The side your [sic] being told is incorrect, and I would love to tell you her side [sic] but the lawyer said not to respond so I can’t.”
Escobar has never responded to have any statement included in this report.
PEAVYS HANDED BLOODY EVIDENCE
Hours before Caleb James died, his mother had one last conversation with him by phone. He was getting off work and driving to his girlfriend’s home. Peavy called to tell him she picked his yearbook up and wanted to show him the page she bought for him.
“He told me that he couldn’t wait to see it,” Peavy said holding the yearbook open. The pictures are of her and Caleb, one when he was a toddler, the other just a few months before his death.
James never got to see the yearbook.
The night he died, Peavy drove to the coroner’s office hoping to say goodbye to her son. Peavy was escorted into the morgue where her son was lying in a black body bag, but the coroner’s office wouldn’t allow it to be opened. “I hugged him through the body bag and told him I love him.”
A few days later, Peavy and Escobar drove to the funeral home to view James’ body. She’d dressed her son in the suit he bought for his graduation and had the funeral home dress him in his cap and gown for his viewing. James was only three weeks away from walking across the graduation stage at McBee High School.
The funeral director handed Peavy a bag, which she described as a “hazard bag.” Inside were the clothes her son died in. “I rode home with the clothes in my lap and whenever I got home, I started scrubbing the clothes to preserve them, and inside the bag was his clothes and the cell phone. So, I got the cell phone out and it was dead, and it had been in his pocket when she killed him,” Peavy said.
Peavy charged her son’s phone and started to go through the text messages between her son and Escobar.
“’Aye if you lie to me about anything else or I gotta find out the truth on my mf own, ima ruin you and your family’s life. I put that on my papa,’” Peavy said as she read a text from Escobar to her son. “’ion work for the law the law works for ME,’” another text stated.
We reviewed dozens of texts Peavy pulled from her son’s phone.
“This wasn’t the only one, all of them were like this from months and months and months ago dated back to almost a year. Most of them weren’t even appropriate even for viewing, but this was the one that stood out to me the most,” Peavy told Barr.
“There was never an I love you or I miss you, it was always, always threatening messages from her and it was almost a year’s worth,” Peavy said. That day, Peavy said she called Escobar to explain the messages. “I immediately called her, and I confronted her and she told me, she’s like, ‘That’s not any of your business. They’re just messages do not go through our messages,’” Peavy said.
The Peavys also accessed James’ Snapchat and other social media messaging applications and either printed or downloaded that information to compile for investigators. All of that information was offered to the sheriff’s office in the days following James’ death.
The Peavys said even printing the messages off and showing them to the investigator didn’t seem to spark an interest.
A message dated May 8, just five days before James’ death, shows he stopped sharing his location with Escobar. Peavy thought the messages provided evidence law enforcement needed to explore in the relationship between James and Escobar.
“I took it further; I took it to the sheriff’s office.”
A PLEA FOR SOMEONE TO LISTEN
The Peavys held evidence in their son’s death investigation – evidence they should have never gotten their hands on. The bloody clothes and Caleb James’ cell phone surely held evidentiary value. The problem though, the Peavys and not the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office got the clothes.
Had the sheriff’s office had an open investigation the Peavys would have never gotten the clothes back, according to Brandon Peavy. Peavy knows a little something about the investigative process.
He was a homicide investigator with the sheriff’s office and left a few years ago for a job in the private sector.
“To be honest with you, I don’t I don’t understand how the basic things were missed,” Brandon told Queen City News. “You’re taught; any type of death call that you go on, is treated as – you go there to rule out a foul play. You treat it as foul play is going on until it’s proven that it wasn’t.”
Peavy’s assisted the coroner and the solicitor with the investigation into James’ death in the months since. Peavy said he found no evidence the sheriff’s office conducted any investigative work to determine whether James died at someone else’s hand.
“When I look back through this, it was this was an accident, nothing to see here and that’s how it was treated. You don’t want to ever take somebody’s word on it because people can tell you anything. And that’s exactly what happened that night,” Peavy said.
Peavy and the coroner’s office said the sheriff’s office never kept a crime scene log that night. Peavy said he noticed on scene that night that no one was tracking who was walking into and out of the crime scene tape and the mobile home.
The log would tell the prosecution and defense exactly who went into and out of a crime scene, “First step you do is secure the crime scene. Anybody that’s inside of the crime scene you remove. You set up a perimeter and then you track who comes in and who comes out,” Peavy said. “Whether it’s an accident or not,” Barr asked, “Whether it’s an accident or not because you don’t know. You don’t know what happened there until an investigation takes place. Until it’s proven that foul play hadn’t happened until it’s proven there was an accident. You don’t know,” Peavy explained.
The sheriff’s office disputed the claim about the crime scene log. The solicitor confirmed he didn’t find a crime scene log in the records he received from the sheriff’s office.
“Other than what the caller said on the 911 call, you don’t know what happened. That’s what you go there to find out. I feel like that wasn’t even taken into consideration when they got there. It was just another death call. Just an accident, nothing to see here,” Peavy said.
In the days following the shooting, the Peavys had a direct line to the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office with the investigator leading their son’s death investigation: Investigator Heather Mays. The Peavys quickly developed concerns with Mays’ handling of the case.
“I would say the moment that turned me off from the investigator assigned is: one, I think it was the same day, we tried to give her the cell phone and she said that she couldn’t take it because she needed a search warrant from Chesterfield County because we live in Chesterfield County and that just didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. But then she handed us a stack of voluntary statement forms and asked us to hand them out and get people to fill them out and then send them back to her when they got finished with them. And I’m like, ‘Who does that? Nobody does that.’ You got to be a witness to their statement,” Brandon said.
The Peavys said they asked Mays several more times to take James’ cell phone and to take the time to read the messages. When she wouldn’t take the phone, the Peavys went up Mays’ chain of command.
“We printed off all the messages, put them on several USBs. I gave some of the messages and the USB to the investigator. I took some, gave them to Todd Hardee and we had a meeting with him. And then I went to the sheriff’s office, I was calling every day, I went down there until I spoke with someone to tell them something is going on. And they just brushed it off,” Jessica said.
The Peavys still have the stack of witness statements they said Mays left with them. Jessica filled her statement out, but her copy shows Mays didn’t witness it as the signature line is empty.
In our Feb. 9 meeting with the sheriff and his commanders, all three admitted providing witness statements to crime victims in this way is not DCSO policy. The sheriff said he’d question Mays about the Peavys allegations following our meeting.
The Peavys said between May 21 and May 24, they made several attempts to get Mays to read the messages and take them as evidence. Mays, according to the Peavys, told the family to continue, “Talking to Cassie and make her my friend,” Jessica Peavy wrote in a timeline she created documenting the steps she took in the weeks following her son’s death.
The Peavys said the sheriff’s office ultimately took their son’s phone, but not until weeks after the shooting and after the polygraph the coroner arranged for Escobar. Angry with the response from the sheriff’s office, Peavy said she demanded a meeting with the sheriff, the coroner, and Mays.
After Escobar was charged with involuntary manslaughter on June 3, Peavy said she didn’t believe the charge was appropriate, when viewed in light of the text communications between Escobar and James.
On July 7, the Peavys, the coroner, the sheriff, Deputy Solicitor Kernard Redmond, Mays, and Criminal Investigations Division Captain Neal Cusack met at the sheriff’s office. Peavy admitted she lost her cool in the meeting while detailing a list of things she believed the sheriff’s office failed to do to properly investigate her son’s death – including not collecting her son’s clothes and cell phone.
“I told him I wanted SLED. I told him they weren’t touching his case anymore. They didn’t even investigate it,” Jessica recalled of her answer to Sheriff’ Hudson’s question to her asking what she wanted from him. The prosecutor and coroner told the sheriff it would be best to have SLED take over the case, according to the Peavys.
The solicitor and coroner confirmed that detail to Queen City News.
SLED told Barr the agency never opened an investigation in the case and the sheriff’s office did not ask for assistance at the crime scene that night. Hardee said SLED wouldn’t take the case over because of how the sheriff’s office handled the case.
STATE V. CASSANDRA ESCOBAR
When the sun rose over Darlington County on Feb. 17, Cassie Escobar crawled out of bed, hopped into her black sedan, and headed for her food service job at Miriam’s Kitchen in Byrdtown. Just before 9 a.m., she wheeled her car into Miriam’s Kitchen’s parking lot to begin her shift.
At 10:27 a.m., the grand jury true billed the murder indictment.
As Escobar worked, a deputy solicitor in the Fourth Circuit Solicitor’s Office was on the fifth floor of the county courthouse detailing the probable cause and asking the grand jury to indict Escobar on a murder charge.
A pair of Darlington County deputies – a male and a female – pulled up to Escobar’s job. The female deputy walked in first. We were parked down the road from Miriam’s Kitchen watching and recording the arrest. A few minutes later, the male deputy walked into the parking lot and drove his patrol truck to the back of the restaurant in what appeared to be an attempt to hide Escobar from our cameras lined up in front of the store.
The female deputy escorted Escobar out the back door and straight to the passenger side of the patrol truck. Escobar was not handcuffed, despite her arrest on a murder indictment.
Deputies drove Escobar to the Darlington County Detention Center to book her into jail. Escobar was still sitting in the front passenger seat when the female deputy opened Escobar’s door and put handcuffs on her inside the sally port.
Escobar said nothing as she was whisked inside the jail door. Caleb James’ mother was standing outside the sally port door as Escobar was rushed inside to be booked on the murder charge.
“I’ve waited eight months for this,” Peavy said as she cried outside the jail. “It hurts because I cared for this girl at one time and took her into my home.”
Like the involuntary manslaughter charge, the murder indictment came – not as a result of an investigation by the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office – after Deputy Solicitor Kernard Redmond took over the investigation and prosecution.
In late 2021, Redmond said he obtained the sheriff’s office case file on the Escobar investigation. The sheriff’s office hadn’t yet obtained Escobar’s cell phone, Redmond confirmed. On Jan. 14, Redmond asked the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office to get a search warrant for Escobar’s black iPhone.
The search warrant shows Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Investigator Daiman Shields served the search warrant on Escobar at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 14. The sheriff’s office later pulled multiple gigabytes of data from the phone and clocked it into evidence.
The Escobar search warrant came almost one month to the day before her indictment. Redmond would not answer whether the phone, specifically, led to the murder charge or if some other evidence surfaced.
Redmond indicated he’d found new evidence during his own review of the sheriff and coroner’s office files and with the text messages, the Peavys found in Caleb James’ cell phone.
“As the investigation unfolded, there were certain inconsistencies that I became aware of during the course of my one review of what had already been compiled. And two, what I have been able to gather on my own, that I say on my own, I have to be quite frank – on my own and with the assistance of his mother, Miss Peavy, Miss Jessica Peavy. And with that, have come to the conclusion, based on the facts that we have in this case, that at this point, it rises to the level of being indicted for murder,” Redmond told Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles during Escobar’s Feb. 18 bond hearing.
Escobar was booked into jail just after noon on Feb. 17. She was standing in a Darlington County courtroom less than 24 hours later. Anyone else indicted that day would have had to wait until at least Feb. 21 for a bond hearing. But, because Escobar’s attorney is South Carolina State Senator Gerald Malloy, the court scheduled a special bond hearing before Malloy returned to Columbia for session the following week.
“I am glad that we are able to accommodate Senator Malloy’s schedule because as you know, being a lawyer legislator from a time standpoint, you know, this is limited. So, I do appreciate the court being able to work with us to get this matter scheduled today,” Redmond told Nettles.
Malloy was addressed as “Senator Malloy multiple times during the hearing, at least once by the judge. Both the defense and prosecution are presumed to be equal in a courtroom and officials, but officials and law enforcers watching the hearing noted the references.
One official told Barr he counted seven times Malloy was called “senator” during the hearing.
Escobar was free on a $25,000 bond since her release from jail following the June 3, 2021, involuntary manslaughter charge. Redmond told the judge Escobar had no bond violations and instead of suggesting a bond amount, Redmond made no recommendation to increase the new bond under the murder charge.
Redmond said when Escobar was charged with involuntary manslaughter in June, he agreed with the charge. The solicitor based that conclusion on what appeared to be the only evidence he had at the time: the gunshot residue testing DCSO performed at the scene.
“Initially, Miss Escobar indicated that Caleb took his own life by his own hand. Fast forward to June 2, and that story began to unravel. Prior to that date, the GSR (gunshot residue) test did find that there was GSR residue on the hands of Miss Escobar,” Redmond told the judge. “She finally admitted that she did fire the fatal shot. But she indicated that she fired the fatal shot at the request of Mr. James in that she did not realize the gun was loaded.”
Redmond said he didn’t have evidence the killing happened in a “heat of passion” scenario and didn’t recommend voluntary manslaughter as an option for the grand jury.
The prosecutor didn’t detail any specifics of exactly what evidence he’d collected that led him to believe Escobar murdered James, “I’ve skipped a lot on purpose because as all of you know, I don’t believe in trying my cases anywhere other than in the trial. So, there’s a lot of information that led to the decision that I’m purposely not getting into because I don’t think this is the place or time because this isn’t the trial. But that stuff would come out at trial.”
Malloy told the judge he had no idea what evidence the solicitor had to directly indict Escobar on murder, “So I don’t know what’s going on. I appreciate the learned counsel; my friend Mr. Redmond, we used to work together. He sent me what he had last night, I haven’t reviewed it, so I don’t know these facts that he’s talking about that has come to light.”
As for the June 2021 confession Escobar gave at SLED, Malloy disputed that as anything extraordinary.
“They said there was some possibly untruths. In all of my career, I’ve heard a lot of untruths from a person at first glance, then the rest of the story,” Malloy told the judge. “But for the purposes of today, I agree with solicitor, we’re not here to end up trying the case. I may not be the one standing before you to end up trying the case. But it needs to end up having all the facts. I submit to you the facts haven’t changed. I didn’t hear any facts changing, even here today. Did not hear any facts that changed.”
Escobar did not speak during the hearing. Nettles continued Escobar on the $25,000 bond. She left the Darlington County Detention Center around lunchtime on Feb. 18.
Escobar didn’t make any comment when asked as she was escorted to a sheriff’s patrol vehicle for the ride back to the jail.
The Peavys sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing.
“The Solicitor’s Office proved that even though mistakes were made that night that the case wasn’t over with. The sheriff’s office still had an investigation and a charge right in front of them. They just didn’t do it,” Brandon Peavy told Barr. “It was it was all right there in front of your face, you just didn’t care. The solicitor’s office proved that there was a whole lot more to this case, there was a charge to be made. And it was in front of you, and we got nothing from the sheriff’s office.”
“He was just a kid who didn’t even get to graduate, they could at least gave him the respect to look into this, to at least do something. They could have gave him a little bit of respect, but they just wrote it off as, ‘Oh, we’ll take her word.’ I don’t know if it was the laziness or the incompetence or what, but she almost got away with this,” Jessica Peavy told Queen City News.
“As far as James Hudson and his department, you had one job. You had one job to do and you couldn’t even do that and I just pray that this doesn’t happen anybody else,” Peavy said.
SHERIFF MULLS GAG ORDER
After backing out of an interview on Feb. 9, Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson sent Queen City News Chief Investigator Jody Barr a letter two days later. The letter was Hudson’s “official statement in the Cassandra Escobar case,” the sheriff wrote.
“My office takes great pride in investigating cases in an ethical and fair way. As such, I have directed my office to refrain from commenting on such pending criminal cases and to direct any inquiries to the Solicitor’s Office,” Hudson wrote.
The problem for Hudson, he and his top two deputies spent more than two hours discussing details of the Escobar case – on the record – with Queen City News just two days before. When Hudson canceled the interview on Feb. 9, he said he did so over his concerns with negative publicity the questions and upcoming report might bring. Barr informed the sheriff during that meeting that our report would include an interview with him.
Either scheduled or unscheduled.
On Feb. 16, we found the sheriff walking across the sheriff’s office parking lot and into a field of junked cars behind his office. We questioned Hudson about the Escobar case. The sheriff would not answer any of the questions directly, instead saying “It’ll be handled in court,” to each question.
We asked Hudson about the Peavy’s concerns with Investigator Heather Mays’ credentials to lead a homicide investigation, “Sir, she does not have to have – there’s no requirement that she have to have that,” Hudson responded. “Do you think she was qualified to do what she did,” Barr asked.
“I think she’s qualified to be an employee at the sheriff’s office,” Hudson said before walking away and ending the interview.
But Hudson wasn’t finished. Days later, the sheriff’s chief deputy, Chad McInville, told the Peavys the sheriff was looking to get a gag order imposed in the case. A law enforcement source also told Barr the sheriff sought legal counsel in an attempt to prevent anyone connected to the investigation from talking about the case.
As of this report, the state has not asked for a hearing to have a gag order imposed in the Escobar prosecution.
We also made multiple attempts to interview Investigator Heather Mays and her direct supervisor, Captain Neal Cusack. Neither Mays nor Cusack responded to Facebook messages or emails sent to the sheriff’s office on Feb. 16. The messages detailed five concerns regarding Mays’ handling of the Escobar case and Cusack’s oversight of the investigation.
Our message also asked the sheriff’s office to correct any inaccuracies in the allegations detailed in the message. Chief Deputy McInville responded, referring to Hudson’s letter claiming the sheriff’s office couldn’t comment because the case is pending trial.
“I will advise that some of your information is very inaccurate,” McInville wrote in the email.
McInville never responded to a follow-up request for him to detail what exactly is inaccurate so we could correct the record. As of this report, McInville has not pointed out anything he claims is not factual in our reporting.