Taking from the trash: A wastebasket discovery leads to confusion with university police

Georgia State student, Justin Avery, holds in his hand the police report that details the events of his arrest.
Georgia State student, Justin Avery, holds in his hand the police report that details the events of his arrest.
Georgia State student, Justin Avery, holds in his hand the police report that details the events of his arrest. Photo by Jade Johnson | The Signal

Editor’s Note: This article is based on the student’s account of the alleged crime. As of press time, GSUPD has yet to return calls and emails from The Signal.

Justin Avery munched on chicken pasta while he lugged boxes, helping his girlfriend Ameera Hill move out of the University Lofts on Aug. 2 after a long summer semester.

The couple carried clothes and books through the Loft’s industrial, white halls traversing to and from the 14th floor elevator corridor. During the many trips down to Ameera’s car, Avery noticed something in the trashcan near Hill’s door.

He retrieved a black Michael Jordan bookbag, something he figured his brother, Xavier, could use — they had been sharing Justin’s back pack. But Avery never guessed that his curiosity would land him two nights in jail and a criminal theft charge.

“I come [to Georgia State] to get an education,” Avery said. “Now I’ve got a record.”

The backpack in question belonged to Jonathan Jones of the Loft’s custodial staff. Jones told Georgia State University Police (GSUPD) his backpack was missing from his janitorial cart when he returned from lunch. Jones declined to comment for the article.

Three hours after his lunch break, Jones and the reporting officer, Danny Williams, deemed the backpack stolen. And Loft security footage showed Avery carrying it down the hall. This whodunit seemed pretty open and shut.

The next day Avery’s friend Chelsea Mann was hanging out with him at his Loft apartment when his phone rang from GSUPD’s Detective Cheryl Lowman informing him of the charges pending.

Mann said Avery remained poised through the troubling news.

“He seemed cool, calm and collected,” Mann said. “But he told me the backpack owner wanted to press charges.”

Avery had just begun scheduling classes for his fall semester, but he dropped everything to march to the police station for some explanation.

However, his face-to-face with Lowman was less enlightening than expected. Although Avery tried to iron out the misunderstanding, he claimed Lowman was dismissive and belittling. He told her to check the camera footage to prove he just found Jones’ bag in the trash.

“[Lowman] didn’t believe me,” he said. “She just said, ‘I’m gonna throw the charges on you.’”

Lowman refused to provide a comment to The Signal. But Avery filed a formal complaint against her with her colleague, GSUPD Lieutenant Brian Lawton. Lawton ensured the investigation of Avery’s theft charge would look closely at all the evidence at hand.

Avery claims Lawton also told him that if he did in fact pull the backpack from the trash, the misunderstanding would be cleared up promptly. Lawton also declined to go on-record for the story.

“He told me, if I got [the backpack] out of the trashcan, …don’t worry about nothing,” Avery said.

But by Aug. 4, things had not been cleared up. Avery opened his apartment door to a knock from a Loft hall director and GSUPD Officer Jerome Williams.

Lowman had put out a warrant for Avery’s arrest. After a brief and civil discussion, Avery succumbed to the handcuffs, charged with theft by taking.

Avery took a squad car ride from the Lofts to Fulton County Jail. He claimed the phones in his cell block were out of service, leading to a delay in processing his arrest. The setback kept Avery behind bars for two nights. He was released Aug. 6 on a $500 surety bond, contingent upon his appearance in court.

“That money I paid to get out of jail is money that could have paid for my housing,” Avery said.

His first order of business upon release was sorting out this mass of confusion so it doesn’t happen to anyone again.

“I can’t allow this to be swept under the rug,” he said. “This is corruption. And it can happen to anybody.”

And while there is no proof of malicious intent from Georgia State police, the investigation did not assess all the relevant evidence as promised.

Before this case evolved, Avery was sure security footage would absolve him of guilt. But police only cited video footage of him carrying the backpack toward the elevator. They neglected to address the camera pointing at the trash cart by Hill’s apartment.

In fact, no one from the university’s police department has yet acknowledged that the “stolen” bag was taken from the depths of a trash receptacle.

Although no officers would go on-record for The Signal, police have said the janitor’s trash cart was not being used for waste disposal, but rather storage. One officer likened the custodian’s cart to a businessman’s office, claiming Avery had invaded Jones’ “place of business.”

But Aug. 2 was move-out day for those who hadn’t paid for a fall stay at the Lofts. And students had been dumping dog-eared folders and last semester’s syllabi on top of this nice Jordan knapsack.

“You tend to think that stuff in the trash is trash,” Avery said.

But apparently, at that time, the trashcan was being used as a storage facility, according to Georgia State police. And the way things transpired has left Avery wondering if he wants to stay at Georgia State.

On Aug. 19, Avery went to Georgia’s State magistrate court. His charges will be dismissed upon the completion of eight hours of community service. But Avery left thinking he should have fought the charges. He said feels defeated.

“After this whole situation here; the humiliation, the pain, the injustice; I don’t want to be a student here any longer,” he said. “It’s kind of humiliating when people just write you off as a thief. I don’t feel welcome.”

GSUPD’s Deputy Chief Carlton Mullis did not respond to The Signal’s inquiries.

1 Comment

  1. I can see why someone would not think twice about taking something out of the trash and keeping it. Have you ever heard of dumpster diving? Some people make a pretty good living at it!
    We are always told that once you put something in the garbage it is not considered yours anymore. This is why we are encouraged to shred bills and documents before throwing them away. This is also why the police can search a suspect’s trash as part of an investigation.
    So why is it that the ‘trash’ in this case is so different? Because someone is using the trash receptacle for storage?? Ridiculous!

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