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Midway City Manager found quilty of assault

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By Alice Du Pont

        A Gadsden County jury found Midway City Manager Auburn Ford Jr. guilty of assault on a firefighter and obstruction of a firefighter.

       The incident occurred March 29, 2011 at Ford's Lake Yvette home.

         The six-member jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes before reaching a verdict on May 22. Ford said he was shocked by the decision.

         Two firefighters who answered that call said they felt threatened by Ford's actions that evening and were unable to carry out their duties because they feared Ford might harm them physically.

        Curtis Adair testified he saw Ford swing at Fire Chief  Chris Lance. He said that Lance ducked and was able to get behind Ford and subdue him. Adair then said that he and Lance, both "took Ford to the ground."

         Ford testified that he was burning limbs and cardboard boxes that evening but the fire was out and there were only smoldering embers left in area where he burns yard trash. He said the fire was not unattended but he only left for a few minutes to take his young son inside.

         He said Lance called his cell phone as he was walking out of the house. According to Ford the two were having a very professional conversation until Lance began shining a flashlight in his face and repeating that he was not supposed to burn after dark.

         "I told them there was no fire and I asked him nicely to take the flashlight out of my face. I told them to leave my property because they were trespassing," Ford said.

         It was when the conversation got heated; Ford said that Lance jumped on his back, put his neck in a choke hold and slammed him to the ground with the help of Adair.

         "I could hardly breathe, my legs were burning and I was in fear for my life," Ford said.

         But firefighters' recollection of the incidents that evening were different. Adair said they arrived at the home and saw a fire (3 to 5 feet high) burning near the tree line behind Ford's home.

     He said the fire was unattended and Lance called the telephone number painted on the side of a trailer near the fire. He said he saw trash; construction debris and aerosol cans in the fire.

         "He (Ford) came out of the house screaming, yelling and cussing for us to get off his f---ing property and was making aggressive moves towards us,” Adair said. “I didn’t know whether he had anything in his hands or not, his hands were balled up.”

         Once Ford was on the ground, Adair said, he called to his wife to bring the gun because he was going "to shoot these mf's."

         Deputy Jeffery Stowell arrived on scene after Lance called 911 for help. He said he detained Ford based on statements made by the firefighters that night but he did not arrest him.

         During the trial, Ford's attorney Fred Pearson said his client would not testify. Ford, however, changed his mind and decided to testify.

         After the trial Ford said he was going appeal the verdict.    

         He does not score high enough in the Department of Corrections sentencing guideline to be jailed. Ford said the judge asked his attorney and assistant state attorney Angelic Hutchins to meet and seek an arrangement that both sides could agree on.