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The Scandal of the Century: The Police Officer Who Planted Drugs on His Ex-Wife's Car to Possess Children
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The Scandal of the Century: The Police Officer Who Planted Drugs on His Ex-Wife's Car to Possess Children

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MADISONVILLE, TEXAS — October 2, 2018

To possess a child, the Texas man, a police officer, planted drugs on his wife, and then came up with a whole story to be innocent.

The story started in 2011 when Laura Covington was returning home after taking her children to school in the central Texas town of Madisonville. Suddenly a state highway patrolman stopped her for allegedly speeding.

The police officer introduced himself as Carl Clary and asked the woman to provide documents for the car and at this time began a search inside it. Then he radioed in about his stop. Minutes later, his cell phone rang. It was Jeff Covington, the woman's ex-husband, who during the call began saying that Laura had drugs. Clary found them where Jeff said they would be. He then arrested Laura.

For seven years afterward, Laura lived in the shadow of this moment: a mother out to prove her innocence, that she was framed by her former cop husband. Time and again, she described what happened, including this month in a Houston federal court, when her civil suit against Jeff, another police officer,  Carl Clary and the man who allegedly planted the drugs finally went to trial.

According to the court data, Clary seemed confident that knowing the drugs were in the woman's car wasn't an accident. He noted he usually found drugs and drug paraphernalia strewn about inside cars. Although he wasn't sure that this could happen to his colleague's family.

Then the police officer contacted the Texas Rangers. Laura bonded out. Six days later, the day before her 28th birthday, she dropped her kids at school, but the principal, who had taught her when she herself was young, wouldn’t let her pick them up at the end of the day. They had been ordered into Jeff’s custody.

“It felt like it was me against the world,” she said.

The investigation began.

It's not about the money

Months passed as the woman had to constantly go to court. For a long time she was sure that it was all about the money that her ex-husband wanted from her.

Laura alleged her constitutional rights, to be free from unreasonable search, and from criminal charges based on made-up evidence or testimony, were violated. She initially sought $5 million in damages.

"This had been a set-up," Laura told the magistrate judge, Frances Stacy, on Sept. 20th from the witness stand "I had been framed."

The testimony, over four days, sounded more like a movie than real life. The setting was Madisonville, population 4,400, a rest-stop town, home to the Buc-ee’s, between Houston and Dallas off I-45. Laura was the protagonist, imperfect but determined. Jeff was the enemy, protected, Laura claimed, by his police shield

Returning to the beginning of history, as it turned out, Laura and Jeff married twice, and divorced twice, according to the court documents. They met when Laura was a senior in high school, she said in an interview. Jeff was older and respected, in her eyes. He was a police officer.

But the family didn’t have good relations from the beginning. The couple would often fight. When their marriage fell apart the second time, two moments stood out to Laura and her attorneys as hints of what was to come. The first was Jeff’s alleged assault of Laura, in 2009. The second, one year later, was Jeff’s alleged injury to his daughter.

By the way, it should be noted that for the first time during the divorce, Jeff promised Laura to "revenge a terrible life together." In court, he said that he would leave her on the street so that she remembered him for a lifetime. The divorce was due to the fact that the woman found out Jeff was cheating on her in 2009

During the first and second divorce, Jeff demanded from the court the withdrawal of children from the wife, but more about that later. Each time the court postponed this question, but in the end, the children stayed with their mother.

Then the man was sent to serve in Iran, where he stayed almost up until the present moment. He worked there advising local police for an American military contractor.

He was fired, allegedly after admitting to trying to buy Viagra, according to the court documents. The Madisonville police chief hired him, improperly, Laura’s attorneys argued, because his police credentials had expired. Jeff claims his license was in order.

Then, during their second marriage, Laura found out about her husband's cheating again. She demanded a divorce. Brandishing a baseball bat, Laura confronted Jeff about his rumored infidelity at her mother’s house. In court, she recounted how he attacked her, gripping her neck. Someone then called 911, and it felt to her like every police officer on duty showed up. Jeff claimed he had acted in self-defense. A Texas Ranger investigated, according to court documents, but the district attorney did not prosecute.

In the months that followed, Jeff was promoted to patrol sergeant. A year later, his kindergarten-age daughter broke her leg on a trampoline. After her cast was removed, she was afraid to walk. One day, Laura's attorneys say, Jeff forced the girl to try and spanked her when she didn’t. The same Texas ranger investigated, and again no charges were brought up.

But every time Jeff came to pick up the kids, he was accompanied by colleagues in the police department, which Laura saw as a form of intimidation. She was also hearing rumors that Jeff was out to get her.

Jeff went to drastic measures

After three failed attempts to take over the children, Jeff decided to act more decisively and together with his colleague Carl Clary to come up with a plan of action, according to which Laura had to go to prison for several years. During this time, Jeff had intended to pick up the kids himself.

Clary later admitted he knew Jeff and Laura were arguing over custody of their children. According to the court documents, colleagues had attended a training session two months earlier when Jeff told him that Laura kept methamphetamine in a key holder under the car.

Then, as the investigation showed, Jeremy Kidd planted the drugs on Laura’s red Chevy pickup. Jeff and another police officer, Justin Barham, allegedly told Kidd, a former prosecutor’s informant with a growing criminal record, that it would help him in his cases.

This trio became the co-defendants in Laura’s civil case.

It would seem that everything is so simple, but the story is not over. During the investigation, it turned out, that Laura did use methamphetamine. The drug was growing rampantly throughout Texas. Police called Madisonville “the Wild West,” Barham said, "and it was. It was wild."

When it came to the planted drugs, Justin Barham recalls what happened: a woman named Joyce Hall introduced him to Kidd. Kidd told Barham that Laura bought drugs through him. Barham shared that information with Jeff, who he knew was concerned about his kids.

Jeff said in an interview that he did not ask Kidd to plant drugs on Laura. Barham said maybe Kidd did it of his own volition. But Laura’s lawyers found both former cops at fault for what followed.

During the court, Hall said that she showed Kidd where Laura lived. Court records say that she gave Kidd the drugs to plant. She, too, struggled with an addiction at that time. And she, too, hoped for help staying out of prison if she went along with the scheme.

"I felt like my freedom was on the line," Hall said on the stand.

Months later, on Aug. 22, 2011, Barham told an investigator in the district attorney's office that Laura had drugs in her truck. The investigator, Bobby Adams, agreed to pull her over. Other officers at other points in time had allegedly declined to stop and search her.

Laura had known Adams for years. She noticed as he searched her car, that he seemed on edge. That time, he did not find anything. Then Clary stopped her car and Laura was arrested.

In conclusion

Then the police had to investigate Andres de la Garza, who walked into a tangled web. The next part of the story has a drug dealer who said he paid Jeff and Barham in exchange for protection. There was a sheriff, who recalled Jeff saying he would kill someone if he got indicted. And there was the Madisonville housing authority, which was under investigation for inappropriate business transactions, including providing low-cost housing to police.

Laura, meanwhile, was devastated and depressed. She didn't go to the grocery store. She couldn't go anywhere without someone stopping her to ask what happened.

In 2012, Jeff gave up his rights to his children, a decision that he said on the stand he regrets. But he was motivated, he said, to end the fighting. "I don’t want to cause them any more pain," he said.

De la Garza arrested Jeff on a charge (among others) of official retaliation on February 25, 2013. He was sentenced, per an agreement, on April 25, 2014, to probation, with 30 days in jail — a slap on the wrist, in Laura’s perspective.

Barham received deferred adjudication for a charge of making a false statement to a peace officer, according to the court records.

Listening to the testimony in Jeff's trial was Missouri City attorney Melissa Azadeh. She says she was horrified by what she heard.

"At every step of the way, everybody was doing everything wrong and nobody cared," Azadeh said. "Nobody cared about Laura."

She and her co-counsel took over the suit, filed in 2013, claiming that Laura’s civil rights had been violated, and naming Jeff, Barham, Kidd, the city and police department as defendants, although the city and police department were later dismissed from the suit.

Barham moved to La Porte, where he works in tow. Laura and her family moved to College Station, where they could blend in. Jeff stayed in Madisonville and took a new job.

This month, in a Houston federal courtroom, they all faced each other again. Laura had spent seven years trying to avoid Jeff and now she was looking him straight in the face. Jeff wasn't sure whether he should talk to his kids, a boy, now 15, and a girl, now 13, who sat with the family in the front row. All of the co-defendants, who represented themselves, apologized, to varying degrees.

On September 20th, the jury, seven women and one man, sided quickly with Laura on almost every count. They awarded her $175,000, though she might not ever see a penny of it.

That night, Barham said he got his first clear night of sleep in years. Jeff said that the verdict elicited "a lot of different emotions."

"This is over," she said by phone Wednesday. "We don't have to go through this anymore. We don’t have this horrible incident hanging over our heads anymore. We can finally move forward with our lives and not have to face this ever again."

For free thinking

So, we worked out this story. The man was a bastard who, by any means, tried to take away children from his ex-wife. He found drug dealers, convinced his colleagues to help him, and built the whole plan, but alas, couldn't realize it. But what is most interesting in this story, is that the woman remained innocent.

In this story, for some reason, no one initially noted that the woman appealed not only to the court but also called for the help of third-party organizations which support women. The so-called ‘women's lawyers.’ They helped her to manage until the court decides the fate of the rest offenders. By the way, Laura's husband has now been released. The court decided to give him probation.

No one thought that next to the children there was a drug addict mother who escaped all punishment. It turns out, high-quality, had protected not only her husband, but herself as well.

Author: USA Really