Branning returned to active sentence following probation violation

By Allison Richmond | Jan 12, 2017
Mug shot of Robert Branning

Long before Robert Branning escaped from custody and led officers on a chase ending on Main Street where he fired at deputies, he was well known to Haywood law enforcement for his gang-related activity.

Branning is a habitual felon with a record that includes multiple charges of assault, gun charges, assault of detention officers, larceny, possession of stolen property and more.

He was in court Monday to address a probation violation charge stemming from November 2015, when he was found to be interfering with an electronic monitoring device.

Branning was convicted of that charge in December 2015 and given a suspended sentence of five to 15 months. He was to serve supervised probation of 24 months in the case, but that didn’t last long.

In July 2015, he was supposed to have been living at the Pathways Center, the homeless shelter next to the Haywood County Detention Center, but when his parole officer went to check on him on Aug. 7, 2015, he was no longer there.

On his parole intake form, Branning answered yes to a question about whether he is involved in any gang activity.

On Aug. 17, Branning failed to appear for a scheduled visit. Through law enforcement channels, the probation officer learned that Branning may be living with friends on Mustang Alley in the Cruso area, a location well known to law enforcement for its criminal activity.

On Aug. 22, probation officers were making an unscheduled home visit to another probationer who lived at Mustang Alley, where they discovered Branning and several other known associates, attempting to flee the home.

Upon arriving, they saw a woman run to the back of the home.

Probation officer Charles Allison testified that as he came around the back of the trailer home to see what was going on, he saw Branning on the ground outside the back bedroom window, helping a woman who was climbing out the window. On the ground, next to Branning was a locked duffel bag.

Allison testified that as he approached the pair, he was close enough that the woman nearly fell on him as she exited.

He said he told them both to go around front to the other office, while he checked to see if anyone else was at the back at the home. He said that both complied, with Branning picking up and carrying the duffel bag with him, leading him to believe that the contents inside belonged to him.

Around the front of the home, other occupants were leaving through the front door.

With multiple people, including other probationers known to law enforcement gathered at the same home and acting suspiciously when the parole officers arrived, they knew something was wrong.

Quickly realizing they were outnumbered, Allison and the other parole officer called for backup. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to assist in sorting out why several people were trying to leave the home so quickly.

Upon searching Branning, he had a loaded and charged pistol in his waistband. He refused to give up the combination to the lock on the duffel bag, so officers pulled open the zipper.

Inside they found a loaded AR-15 with the stock broken down, a round in the chamber and a loaded clip, handcuffs, a bulletproof vest, masks, gloves and extra ammunition for the rifle and the handgun.

The woman Branning was helping out the window, Deanna Manier, also had a .22 handgun with the serial number filed off.

Inside the home, officers found stun guns, drug paraphernalia and other contraband.

Allison testified that Branning willfully violated his probation in several ways — his failure to report as scheduled on Aug. 17, his failure to pay required fines, his failure to report change of residence and his possession on Aug. 22 of several weapons, which as a convicted felon, he is prohibited from carrying or possessing.

The state, with the agreement of the parole officer, recommended revoking Branning’s probation. Judge J. Thomas Davis agreed to activate the suspended sentence. He was credited with 244 days of time served.

Through his lawyer, Branning immediately appealed the case, which will now head to the appellate court.

He still faces charges from the Oct. 21 escape attempt including common law robbery, misdemeanor escape, first-degree kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon on a government official, alluding arrest, larceny of a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a felon. His next court date is Jan. 30, 2017.