Sheriff 'candid' on cult

Grand jury praises Edwards' response

Athens Banner-Herald/January 5, 2007
By Allison Floyd


A Clarke County grand jury has found that Sheriff Ira Edwards adequately responded to concerns that members of a black supremacist cult had infiltrated the county jail as they tried to attract jailers and inmates into the sect.

The 190-word presentment filed Wednesday focuses on the sheriff's communication - lauding him for a "candid, appropriate and professional" response to an earlier grand jury's concerns.

But the finding doesn't describe any actions the sheriff took to address security concerns at the jail and says critical newspaper editorials and articles prompted the grand jury to study the sheriff's "response" to a previous grand jury's findings. The sheriff fired four deputies and allowed another to resign in November, but the grand jury's presentment doesn't mention those actions.

The sheriff's office, which answers media questions only through e-mail, refused to respond to four questions Thursday, offering to answer by the end of the business day today.

Sheriff's investigators began as early as March to investigate connections between the Clarke County Jail and the United Nation of Nuwaubian Moors - a cult led by convicted child molester Malachi York.>

Former Chief Deputy Brett Hart, who started to look into Nuwaubian ties in the jail after he learned at least one jailer was corresponding with York, was abruptly fired in April. Edwards said only that he'd decided "to go in a different direction," requiring a management change.

The sheriff's office initially found that deputies did not break policies by communicating with York in federal prison or by distributing cult books to inmates.

A previous grand jury launched its own inquiry, and after an inmate complained that he felt three Nuwaubian deputies were pressuring him to rebel against white jailers, the sheriff's office launched a second internal investigation.

That grand jury, which was led by Athens attorney Jeff Rothman, ended its term in July with a recommendation that an independent agency review the sheriff's office or the next grand jury continue to study the connection.

The current grand jury issued its findings and recommendations this week.

The grand jury's recommendations included: Support of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) voting machines, another topic considered by the previous grand jury.

A pay raise for grand jury bailiffs from $60 to $75 a day.

Creation of a grand jury log to provide better continuity from one grand jury to another, allowing subsequent panels to follow up on business left unfinished by the previous group.

Only one page of the presentment addressed the sheriff's office, though two press releases from Edwards were attached to the report, one issued in July and published on the Banner-Herald's Web site, and a second issued in November, but not published by the newspaper.


The grand jury didn't recommend any actions in regards to the jail. Hart, who now works for a jail in another jurisdiction and has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over his firing, said he didn't view the grand jury's work as a continuation of the previous panel.

"I feel that (the current grand jurors) did exactly what they said they did," Hart said Thursday. "They read what Sheriff Edwards published after the last grand jury presentment and formed their own opinion.

And they have a right to do that. "I wouldn't call that an investigation and I don't think it was presented as such."

The previous grand jury started its inquiry too late in the term to finish its work, Hart said, but a grand jury could review the department throughly enough to satisfy him.

"If you compare what the previous grand jury tried to do - compared to what this grand jury did, which is just basically review Sheriff's Edwards statements - the previous grand jury made a concerted effort to investigate," he said. "I can't characterize what this grand jury did as an investigation. The elements of investigation aren't there."

A transcript of the grand jury's presentment Athens-Clarke County Sheriff Committee, Blaine A. Norris, Committee Chair.

In light of recent newspaper editorials and stories about a supposed lack of response by Sheriff Edwards concerning certain issues at the Sheriff's Office and Jail raised by the April 2006 Grand Jury resentment, the Grand Jury appointed a committee to consider Sheriff Ira Edward's response to the previous Grand Jury presentment. The Grand Jury appreciated learning of Sheriff Edwards written response to the prior Grand Jury presentment that was filed by Sheriff Edwards just a few days after the presentment, (a copy attached hereto as Exhibit A) and the Grand Jury found very informative the Sheriff's recent press release on these matters (copy attached hereto as Exhibit B) that for some reason was not published by the local newspaper. The Grand Jury believes that Sheriff Edwards took seriously the Grand Jury's prior presentment, and believe that his response has been candid, appropriate and professional - as is to be expected of any elected public official - despite the tone of recent editorials suggesting the contrary. The Grand Jury extends its sincerest thank you to Sheriff Edwards for his cooperation and openness in this process and his continued service to this community.
















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