DALTON, Ga. — Steve Foster, the local Democratic candidate for Congress, is eligible to be on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election, but likely will still be in jail on Election Day after being sentenced Tuesday for his DUI conviction.
Whitfield County Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris sentenced Foster, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Graves in the 14th Congressional District, to one year in jail with six months to serve and six months on probation for his Aug. 7 conviction. A jury found Foster guilty in 15 minutes
The Dalton Police Department arrested Foster for DUI on Sept. 23, 2017. In police dash cam video played in court and released after the trial, Foster rambles and rants through the arrest, a trip to the hospital and eventual booking into the Whitfield County jail. On the video, Foster told police he prayed to God for a curse on Whitfield County.
After pleas from family and friends before the sentencing to not let one bad night destroy what they said was a life of altruism, charity and compassion, Morris was not moved to give Foster a probated sentence with no jail time, saying Foster has shown no remorse. Foster, who has been in jail since his conviction, did not speak at the sentencing.
“Sometimes we forget that probation is a privilege and not a right,” Morris said. “Because we do give a lot of probation. And a person gets probation when they have demonstrated remorse and have taken responsibility and have shown a desire to change the behavior which got them here. And they have shown some indication they will comply with the terms of probation.
“But the court does look at his lack of remorse, lack of taking responsibility, lack of desire to change, and I have concerns with his ability to comply with probation,” Morris said. “And that is the way anybody would be viewed.”
In addition to the jail time and probation, Foster must pay a $700 fine and court costs, perform 40 hours of community service, attend DUI school and have a mental health evaluation within 30 days of his release from custody.
“I believe Judge Morris had her mind made up before we even came in today,” said Connie Hall-Scott, Foster’s fiancé.
Before the sentencing, family and friends asked Morris to give Foster a light sentence. Kenna Betterton, who said she has been Foster’s friend all her life, said the man on the video during his arrest is not the friend she has learned to love and trust.
“Steve has had an impact on human lives,” Betterton said of Foster, a former doctor. “He has given his time, his dedication and his passion to taking care of others. While he can get very, very passionate, he has strived to do the best for everyone he has been in contact with.”
Character witnesses and appeals for a reduced sentence were delivered by Dalton City Councilman Gary Crews, Foster’s 80-year-old mother Belma Foster and restaurateur T.J. Kaikobad. Hall-Scott, whose voice cracked as she spoke of Foster, also spoke before Morris.
“When Steve gives humanitarian stuff, he likes to go to the place of the least served,” said Crews, who is manager of MedNow, the medical clinic Foster owns. “It’s not the places that are on TV a lot of times. That is how he ended up on the Mosquito Coast because those were the folks who were the least cared about and those were the places everybody has really forgotten.”
The Mosquito Coast is an area in present-day Honduras and Nicaragua that has become an impoverished community. Foster has done charity and humanitarian work throughout Central America and in the Caribbean.
“I preface my statement with I don’t necessarily agree with him on a lot of things,” Kaikobad said. “I happen to think a lot differently on a lot of issues. But the point that I want to make is that deep down there is a decent person out there. I have known him to be cerebral. I have known him to be kind. I’ve known him to be compassionate. And I feel that any strong sentence imposed on him would serve only one purpose and that is to push him down further deep under. That doesn’t serve anyone.
“I ask you very humbly to consider that as you decide what your sentence is,” he said.
Hall-Scott said she has lived with Foster for about a year and they choose to live in Whitfield County because this is where they want to be.
“He does not hate or curse this community as the headlines boast,” she said. “He has told me he is profoundly ashamed of those things he said on one regrettable night almost a year ago while under duress, and he said he is sorry, ashamed of the things he said to you guys, too. The things we heard on that police audio are not an accurate representation of Steve Foster.”
The conviction and sentence will not prevent Foster from being on the ballot for the congressional race, according to Whitfield County registrar Mary Hammontree. She said only a felony conviction would prevent that. DUI is a misdemeanor offense.
Messages sent to Dan Lovingood, who is the Democratic Party’s 14th Congressional District chair, were not immediately returned. Lawyer Richard K. Murray represented Foster.