Prosecutor’s online hunch leads to arrest of assault suspect

CENTREVILLE, Mich. — A prosecutor’s uncomfortable hunch during an online court hearing led to the arrest of a Michigan man who was inside the same home as a woman who was testifying against him in an assault case.

A judge in St. Joseph County quickly intervened after Deborah Davis noticed the woman’s body language and how she answered questions. The parties in most Michigan court hearings are not actually in a courtroom because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have reason to believe that the defendant is in the same apartment as the complaining witness right now, and I am extremely scared for her safety,” Davis said during the March 2 hearing, which was conducted over video conference.

The victim and the defendant, Coby Harris, participated via separate video feeds, but their behavior caused Davis concern.

“The fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around — I want some confirmation that she is safe before we continue,” Davis said, according to the video.

Harris, 21, was charged with assaulting the woman in February when they were in a relationship.

Judge Jeffrey Middleton told Harris to take a picture of the address from where he was participating in the Zoom hearing. Harris declined, saying his phone had a low battery.

“We may need to adjourn this, your honor,” Davis told the judge.

Harris was arrested for violating a condition of his bond. He apologized to the judge for lying.

“If you have $10 million, you can’t bond out. In addition, the prosecutor’s probably also going to charge you with obstruction of justice,” Middleton said.

A message seeking comment from Harris’ attorney was not immediately returned Friday. The next court hearing is Tuesday. The incident was first reported by the Sturgis Journal.

“That’s the first time I ever had anybody sitting in the next room potentially intimidating a witness to assault,” Middleton said.