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
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
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.