March 1 melee sees 4 charged
By Beth Lawrence
Police have charged two women and two juvenile females in connection with an early morning punch-up that occurred at the beginning of the month. The brawl happened in the parking lot of the former Ryan’s Steakhouse about 3 a.m. March 1.
The two women are accused of jumping into the fight between the two teenagers.
Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton, like others, is appalled at the behavior of the two adults. “To the community this is a shocking thing that happened,” he said. “This video is hard to watch, and the fact that these two women were physically involved in a high school girls’ fight is sickening.”
The adults were charged by criminal summons.
Jessica Nicole Cochran, 36, of Bryson City, was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Hatton said Cochran is the mother of one of the girls in the fight.
Jacqueline Steely, 23, of Whittier, also faces charges of simple assault, disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Steely is a family friend of Cochran, according to Hatton.
Charging the two women was complicated due to the way state laws are written.
“The charges listed for these adults are the full extent of our laws as it pertains to their actions,” Hatton said. “General statutes can be pretty specific about ages, so the only things that fit were simple assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor because they helped her fight.”
The two girls, ages 16 and 17, have been referred to juvenile services.
Nobody is blameless in the dustup, Hatton said.
“At the conclusion of this investigation, we compared the actions of each individual to our general statutes to determine what crimes had occurred,” he said. “The girl we’re thinking of as the victim, at the beginning of the fight, she was on top wailing on the other girl.”
Bystanders recorded cell phone video of the melee.
Hatton could not say for certain whether the fight was prearranged because none of the people involved admitted to arranging it. Police found out about the fight when a parent of one of the participants filed a complaint and provided a copy of the video.
It is not unusual for teens to fight, but this clash is being closely scrutinized because it involved two adults, Hatton said.
The video shows two girls scuffling on the asphalt and throwing punches. An adult woman, allegedly Steely, is standing over the two. Several times she seems to want to separate the girls or become involved in some way.
Later a second adult woman, allegedly Cochran, jumps out of the passenger side of the car, runs over and separates the two. She grabs the girl on top by the hair, pulls her off and refuses to release her. The woman identified as Cochran continues to hold the girl by the hair while the girl on the ground gets up and starts punching the girl being held.
Cochran appears to attempt to step between the girls for a few seconds, but she is still holding the first teen’s hair and refuses to let go.
The girl can be heard saying, “Let go of my hair,” and later “Get the (expletive) off me.”
The girl being held is eventually dragged to the ground. The mother continues to hold onto the girl’s hair as her daughter pummels her.
Eventually, a third teen girl tries to step in to help her friend, but the woman identified as Steely pushes her away several times.
Later, a few male bystanders step in and pull the two adults and the girls apart.
Teens hanging out in the parking lot of the vacant restaurant has been an ongoing issue. Concerns were relatively minor in the past. The fight escalated the issue into a full-blown problem. Hatton said teens loitering there will be dealt with more severely in the future.