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
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
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
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.