Sheriff captures Johnny Cotney in Hope Hull

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday that Johnny Cotney, 54, was apprehended Monday afternoon.

Deputies located Cotney, who was wanted for charges in Lowndes and Elmore counties after receiving a tip from a Hope Hull resident.

“Monday, [a resident] in the Judge Road area called and said he spotted [Mr. Cotney],” said Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West. “I called my unit to tell them I was headed up there and advised them not to come with lights and sirens. We didn’t want him to hear the sirens and run.”

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Upon arrival, West said the resident, who requested to remain anonymous, showed deputies where Cotney was hiding and how to gain access to the area from both slides.

“One group [of officers] came from the dirt road and then we came from a little pig trail on the backside.”

According to West, Cotney spotted the officers advancing from the front, but did not observe the Sheriff approaching from the rear.

“By the time he spotted me, I was within 40 yards of him,” West said. “He took off and I ran after him. He kept looking back at me.”

Officers pursued Cotney across Judge Road and ran a foot chase for several hundred yards before turning back to cross Judge Road again.

“My other team saw us just as we crossed the road,” West said. “They came and ran him down in the woods. And we got him.”

The search for Cotney stemmed from reports from Hope Hull residents who experienced break-ins. Cotney, who had been camping in the woods near Hope Hull, between Dancer Road and Judge Road, had been in the area for several months. 

According to Lowndes County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Nick Cognasi, the department was alerted of Cotney’s possible presence by the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office in July. Residents in Hope Hull realized his presence and eventually reported the break ins with which he was thought to be involved.

West said Cotney, who is not a Hope Hull native, worked for a time at Casey Feed, walking to work there. Cognasi also confirmed he was well-known by Hope Hull residents and performed odd jobs for income. At some point, Cotney began watching the family, making himself aware of their patterns and breaking in during their absence to steal necessities, like food. 

“He knows the area well, better than we do,” West said. “As part of his survival, he watches families from the woods [and knows] when they go to work, when they come home, when the kids are home. When no one is there, he forces entry into the home and takes only food, sodas, juice or things of that nature. Then he goes back into the woods and continues his lifestyle. He’s done that in several residences throughout the area.”

One local resident, who deviated from their normal pattern, came home to find Cotney in their house, Cognasi explained. They alerted officers, who began plans to execute the search.

The Sheriff’s Office partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) aviation and drone divisions as well as the Alabama Department of Corrections’ (DOC) and Montgomery Sheriff’s Office canine units to perform a joint search operation. Lowndes K-9 deputy Augi and her handler Michael Speigner also helped with the operation on Nov. 22.

Cotney, who has been at large since then, was wanted by the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office for felony elderly exploitation. He was also wanted in Lowndes County in connection with Hope Hull break ins – for second-degree burglary, theft of property fourth, criminal mischief third and tampering with utilities.

After evading law enforcement for almost a week, Cotney has been arrested under those charges and was also charged with attempting to elude. Cognasi said community involvement was critical to Cotney’s capture.

“It’s very important for residents, if they see something, they should say something,” Cognasi said. “Doing that really does help law enforcement. When community members observe any sort of criminal activity or if anybody they know is wanted by law enforcement who could pose a risk to others, they should call and let us know.”