Grand jury calls sheriff, ex-jailer

Both give testimony this month

Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia/June 22, 2006
By Joe Johnson

A Clarke County grand jury heard testimony this month from Sheriff Ira Edwards and former county jail commander Brett Hart - only weeks after Edwards abruptly fired the chief jailer who had started an investigation into a deputy's correspondence with a convicted sex offender and religious cult leader.


Hart's attorney has claimed Edwards fired the chief jailer because Hart was probing allegations that jail employees were recruiting prisoners into their religious sect, and that at least one deputy was corresponding with the sect's leader, Dwight "Malachi" York, a convicted child molester serving a 135-year sentence in a federal prison.

Hart, who was placed on administrative leave April 7 until his termination became official a month later, appeared before the grand jury June 7, according to his attorney, William J. Atkins.

Neither Atkins nor Hart would say what the jailer told grand jurors.

Edwards appeared before the grand jury the week after Hart, leading courthouse insiders to speculate the grand jury is investigating the reason Hart was fired.

"I would assume the reason for their appearances had something to do with why Mr. Hart was relieved of his duties and what appeared in the newspaper this weekend," said one Athens attorney, who requested anonymity.

On Sunday, the Athens Banner-Herald reported that officials at a maximum-security prison in Colorado intercepted a letter from a Clarke County sheriff's deputy to York, spiritual leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, and that Hart had asked federal prison officials for more information about whether deputies were communicating with York.

Edwards on Friday said his office had looked into allegations about the deputy but found no evidence the deputy was distributing Nuwaubian literature to prisoners or that he had violated jail policy by writing to York.

He also said his office was reviewing its policy.

Even so, Hart said he continued to press the investigation. He said he supplied additional information to an internal affairs officer on April 3, and Edwards fired him four days later, explaining only that "a change in jail operations was necessary."

The former jail commander said he was pushing the investigation because, among other things, the Nuwaubian sect is a "racial supremacist organization" and some deputies were concerned about which side the Nuwaubian deputies would choose if a fight broke out between black and white prisoners.

While the grand jury decides whether there's enough evidence to indict people accused of crimes, prosecutors also ask grand jurors to consider some civil matters, such as how a government agency is operated. When grand juries subpoena a witness to testify in those investigations, they typically ask for help through the district attorney's office.

Now, however, "they are doing some investigation beyond what's been presented to them by the D.A.," said defense attorney Edward Brumby, a former prosecutor.

"Typically, the D.A. goes in there as legal adviser to the grand jury, explains how the process works and tells them what they'll be looking into civilly," Brumby said. "But if a grand jury wants to look into something on its own, outside the wishes or supervision of the D.A., that's their right."

The current grand jury is due to make its presentments July 5.















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