Sect chief's influence felt at Clarke jail

Deputy's letter to convicted child molester sparks probe by chief jailer who's fired

Athens Banner-Herald/June 18, 2006
By Joe Johnson

In March, Clarke County's chief jailer Brett Hart got a letter from a federal prison.


It said a local sheriff's deputy was writing to one of the inmates, convicted child molester Dwight "Malachi" York, a spiritual leader the deputy affectionately calls "Baba" and "Pops," according to documents obtained by the Athens Banner-Herald.

Hart opened an internal investigation to find out how deputies were trying to recruit prisoners at the Clarke County Jail into the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a religious sect with black supremacist overtones headed by York.

A month later, Hart was abruptly fired.

Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards gives only vague explanations why he fired the highly-regarded jailer; Hart, pondering a lawsuit, won't speculate.

But Hart's attorney sees only one possibility: Hart continued to press an investigation that his superiors didn't seem interested in pursuing.

Documents obtained by the Banner-Herald include correspondence between Hart and federal prison officials, as well as letters sent by a Clarke County sheriff's deputy and others to York at the maximum security prison in Colorado where the sect leader is serving a 135-year sentence.

Intercepted letter

Nuwaubian literature - some approved and some banned by jail officials - had been circulating around the Lexington Road facility for some time, according to deputies who work at the jail.

But it wasn't until March 7, when the Special Investigative Supervisor's Office of the Colorado prison notified Hart that prison officials had intercepted a letter from a Clarke County sheriff's deputy to York, that the jail opened an internal affairs investigation.

While Hart contends the deputy violated jail policy by writing to a convicted felon, Edwards said the matter was discussed with an attorney who determined no policies were violated, although the policy about corresponding with prison inmates is being looked at for possible revision.

Of the five letters to York the Banner-Herald obtained from a source who did not want to be identified, two were written by the same deputy. The others were from civilians who shared addresses with deputies.

"I am one of the ones that answered the call when you suggested that brothers join law enforcement agencies," the deputy wrote sect leader York. "I have been with the Clarke County Sheriff's Office since April of 2001. Baba, the brothers are with you. We are organizing the Supreme Grand Lodge for your return to give us proper instruction."

The deputy, who holds the rank of corporal, identifies himself to York as "one of your sons" and wrote about organizational efforts here and elsewhere.

"I went to Chicago recently and spoke with brothers interested in joining the brotherhood," the deputy told York. "We are doing our best to get a Lodge started here ... Hopefully this will spiral into the entire community and we can squash the unnecessary beef amongst us. If you have a message for any of the brothers, I will directly relay it to them."

In another letter, the deputy tells York about efforts to prove the sect leader's innocence through the media and Internet.

"This will not only inform people of your innocence, but will save souls and unite the family under our doctrine of Wu-Nuwaubu. We support Africa because that is FIRST. We will put Baba in Africa!"

The day after the federal prison official contacted Hart and he initiated an internal investigation, a superior officer told the chief jailer to get the original letter, as well as the mailing label.

"That struck me as an odd request," Hart said in an interview Wednesday. "I saw no need for the original letter and mailing label since there were no criminal charges that would require handwriting analysis."

Hart said he received the originals March 29 and turned them over to a sergeant conducting the internal affairs investigation.

Two days later, Hart e-mailed the federal prison the names and addresses of four other deputies, asking for any letters they may have sent to York.

The prison responded that there were no letters from those deputies, although they found some from other people who shared the same addresses as deputies.

In one of the letters, dated March 2, a woman who shares the same Athens post office box as a deputy addresses York as "Dad," and talks about members of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam attending the Nuwaubians' annual Children's Ball at a Bogart Elks Club in order to present an award to York.

"With the greater involvement of the NOI I feel there is an effort to make our nation bow to theirs, when they should be coming to us and you," she wrote.

Another woman, with the same address of another deputy, told York how she'd shaved her head, eyelashes, eyebrows "and some other hair," and how York had "made me beautiful beyond hair."

She refers to herself as York's "daughter" and tells the sect leader, "I wanna go home to Africa with you, my father, now and always."

In the cell block

Hart said Edwards hired six Nuwaubian deputies, four of whom were among a group of former Macon police officers and firefighters who quit in 2004 after the city wouldn't investigate their claims that York was the victim of a conspiracy.

According to Hart, one of the deputies was verbally reprimanded last year for violating the jail's Code of Conduct by trying to distribute prohibited Nuwaubian literature to a maximum-security prisoner.

Jail policy forbids deputies from proselytizing any faith or beliefs to inmates or distributing religious literature that has not been approved by the jail's chaplain. Hart said some Nuwaubian literature was approved for distribution.

"We denied an inmate's grievance that he wasn't allowed a book, 'Was Adam Black or White,' which was full of racially inflammatory statements," Hart said of a book written by York.

"The chaplain later discovered material in the inmate's cell and it was confiscated," Hart said. "It was the same literature (the deputy) tried unsuccessfully to bring to the inmate before."

Edwards said his office found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"The sheriff's office investigated allegations of distribution of Nuwaubian materials and could not identify any sheriff's office employee who made such distributions," Edwards said.

Despite the jail's ban on some Nuwaubian material, a deputy told York in an April letter that he and fellow sect members were undeterred.

"I have still managed to propagate our doctrine to many of the inmates there," the deputy wrote. "The administration at the jail really doesn't want our books in the jail, but they can't stop Pops. I have many scrolls circulating in the jail. The irony is that every day I work here, though, makes me realize more and more that YOU DON'T BELONG IN PRISON! That is why I continue to fight for your freedom."

Hart said the Nuwaubian deputies' presence at the jail was disruptive, and not just because of their recruitment efforts.

One deputy, who is black, said his Nuwaubian co-workers are openly racist.

"They think the white man's the Devil," said the deputy, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. "I can't get down with that."

The deputy added, "What gets me the most is how they were passing out information to inmates, convicted felons with no cause in life. When you look at it, those are the easiest people to recruit because they are the most vulnerable."

Hart also contends the sect is racist.

"The Nuwaubians are a racial supremacist organization, and several white deputies were concerned if they found themselves defending against a black inmate, they wondered which side the Nuwaubian deputies would be on in a conflict between black and white," Hart said.

Abrupt termination

Edwards said his decision to fire Hart had nothing to do with Hart pressing forward with the investigation into Nuwaubian activities at the jail.

Though the sheriff would not agree to an interview, he replied to questions via e-mail, and in a statement sent Friday, reiterated a previous explanation of why he dismissed Hart as jail commander:

"I decided that there needed to be a change in the management of jail operations. That was my judgment as sheriff and that is my decision."

When asked to elaborate, Edwards said, "In the interest of fairness to our employees, I do not comment publicly about the circumstances of a former employee's separation from employment with the sheriff's office."

On the advice of his attorney, Hart declined to comment when asked if he was fired because of the investigation he initiated.

His lawyer, William J. Atkins, however, said, "I can think of no other explanation for Brett to have been terminated."

Atkins noted that Hart was highly qualified and received stellar job performance reviews each year since he was hired to run the jail in 2000. The attorney had previously commented that Hart's firing involved "a very sensitive and potentially explosive set of circumstances."

Atkins wouldn't say more because he said Hart may sue, alleging his firing was discriminatory or violated his constitutional rights.

Edwards said his office fully investigated Hart's concerns about a deputy corresponding with York, and again no wrongdoing was found.

"The sheriff's office investigated allegations of violations of policy involving communication with convicted felons and after consultation with counsel concluded that there were no policy violations," Edwards said. "The relevant section of the Standard Operating Procedure is under review for possible revision."

But Hart said it is a violation of jail policy for staff to communicate with convicted felons, and that the deputy should have been disciplined or fired.

He questioned the thoroughness of the internal affairs investigation and efforts by the sheriff's office to crack down on prohibited activities by deputies.

"The only thing I know is, on April 16, (the corporal) wrote to Malachi York again," Hart said. "And since March 7, the only member of the sheriff's office who has contacted (the Colorado prison) was myself."

During a meeting of the sheriff's command staff the last week of March, Sgt. Mike Young, an internal affairs officer, gave a progress report on the investigation.

"The first thing Sgt. Young did was give a rundown of the investigation's progress, and he listed (the corporal) as one of the deputies distributing Nuwaubian materials," Hart said in an interview Wednesday.

On April 3, Hart provided Young with additional information for the investigation, along with the name and telephone number of an FBI agent that the Colorado prison had also contacted concerning the deputy's intercepted letter.

Four days later, on April 7, Edwards summoned Hart to his office at the Clarke County Courthouse and told him he was fired.

"The sheriff gave no other reason for terminating me other than saying a change in jail management was necessary," Hart said. Placed on administrative leave, Hart's employment was officially terminated May 7.

Hart said Edwards ordered him to surrender his badge, gun and other county equipment, and had a captain drive Hart straight to the jail to clean out his office and then to his home.

"This treatment is normally reserved for staff who committed serious criminal misconduct, and it's known as the 'ride of shame,' " Hart said.

The sheriff denied Hart was harshly treated.

"The transportation furnished was not intended to belittle Mr. Hart," Edwards said. "At that time, he was placed on administrative leave with pay and the assistance was provided as a courtesy. Mr. Hart could have chosen a different means to go to the Jail and to his home."

Movement continues

York, 60, claims to be from another galaxy and had promised followers a spaceship was going to arrive in 2003 to spirit away 144,000 true believers.

The identity and beliefs of the Nuwaubians have morphed since York led groups in New York City known as Ansaar Pure Sufi and the Nubian Islamic Hebrews. He also adopted the name Chief Black Eagle.

York and hundreds of his followers moved to Georgia in 1993.

In Athens, Nuwaubians made contributions to the community, such as when they donated 3,000 cans of food to local food banks. York also contributed $2,000 to Edwards' campaign for sheriff in 2000.

Edwards said the contribution did not buy the Nuwaubians any influence.

"I have no allegiance or sympathy with the Nuwaubian group or any of its members," Edwards said.

Under the guise of spiritual leader and deity, prosecutors said, York sexually abused children as young as 8 years old at the Nuwaubians' 476-acre compound in Eatonton, where up to 500 sect members lived. Children also were abused at York's mansion on Mansfield Court in Athens, prosecutors said.

York was arrested in May 2002, and a U.S. District Court jury convicted York in January 2004 on charges of racketeering, conspiracy to transport minors for unlawful sex, two counts of transporting minors for unlawful sex, traveling across state lines to engage in unlawful sex, and three charges of structuring cash transactions to avoid reporting requirements.

Despite York's conviction, many Nuwaubians remain loyal to their spiritual leader, and there are countless postings on the Internet from followers across the nation proclaiming York's innocence and a government conspiracy.

One Clarke County deputy told York in a letter about efforts to have him freed from prison, and preparations were being made for his release.

"We have created a website, www.heisinnocent.com," the deputy wrote. "This site is dedicated to letting the world know the facts that show you are completely innocent and a serious conspiracy was plotted against a just man of God."

A billboard promoting the Web site is at the site of the Nuwaubians' former Holy Tabernacle Ministries bookstore on West Broad Street.

Meetings and classes continue to be held at the Nuwaubians' lodge on West Hancock Avenue, according to The United Nuwaubian Nation Web site.

One member's call to continue the fight to free York, made at the last "Family Meeting" at the lodge, on June 10, was posted on the Web site:

"This is the time we need to be aware of the importance of being more unified. Considering what's going on in the world and the day and time we are living; Wars, Tornados, children killing children, families against families. It's a sign of the time and we need our master teacher."

Nuwaubian resence

United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors spiritual leader Dwight "Malachi" York, above in full regalia and below as he is led from a federal courthouse in Macon after his 2004 sentencing for molestation and other crimes. Letters to York indicate Nuwaubian recruitment efforts at the Clarke County Jail.

A vague termination

Former chief jailer Brett Hart, left, started an investigation into reported attempts by the Nuwaubians to recruit inmates at the Clarke County Jail. A month later, Sheriff Ira Edwards fired Hart, explaining that "there needed to be a change in management of jail operations." Hart's lawyer said there can be only one explanation for the termination of Hart, who was highly regarded: The Nuwaubian investigation.















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