Nuwaubians: Grand Jury says independent
panel should probe jail
Athens Banner-Herald/July 14, 2006
By Joe Johnson
A grand jury has called for an independent agency to
investigate the Clarke County Sheriff's Office because of
"inappropriate" activities at the jail involving deputies
belonging to a black supremacist religious sect whose leader is
serving a 135-year federal prison sentence.
In its report, made public Thursday afternoon, the Clarke
County grand jury said it heard testimony about communications
between deputies and United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors leader
Dwight "Malachi" York, and that the sheriff's office did not have
a current policy and procedure manual that addresses deputies
"consorting with known convicted felons." The report also said
that deputies were recruiting prisoners into the sect.
"We have spent (a) considerable amount of time investigating
the serious allegations raised concerning the sheriff's office,"
the report states. "Due to time constraints, a general conclusion
cannot be reached at this time. The grand jury feels that further
independent investigation is required and necessary in this
The grand jury's 10-page presentment, which included 32 pages
of exhibits, contained only two paragraphs concerning the
investigation into Nuwaubian activities at the jail. All of the
exhibits, and most of the presentment, concerned the panel's
inspection of voting machines and the process of recording
"physical" and electronic votes.
The panel's foreman, Athens attorney Jeff Rothman, said he
could not comment about the presentment because of grand jury
secrecy rules, but said he was "disappointed because each time the
grand jury went off script, I believe roadblocks appeared to
frustrate the grand jury and compromise its independence and
Among other things, Rothman referred to an attempt by
Athens-Clarke County Attorney Bill Berryman to quash grand jury
subpoenas issued to Nuwaubian deputies and Berryman's motion to
allow Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards to have his response to
the presentment published as an addendum to the panel's findings.
Clarke County Superior Court Judge Steve Jones denied the
motion during a hearing Thursday morning, and Edwards' response
was made an official court document when Berryman refiled an
earlier motion, amending it by including the sheriff's response as
In his response, Edwards countered that in calling for an
independent investigation, the grand jury "ignored" evidence that
the sheriff's office was already investigating Nuwaubian
activities at the jail.
"The grand jury's review of this issue coincided with a
sheriff's office internal investigation of the same matter which,
upon advice of counsel, had been ongoing for several months,"
According to the response, Edwards told the grand jury about
the need to protect employees' constitutional rights to due
process and freedom of speech and association, and that based on
the facts initially brought to his attention, the Nuwaubian
deputies were not engaging in prohibited activities.
Edwards said his office was in the process of reviewing
policies and procedures at the jail, and expected revisions would
be made by this fall.
He vigorously disputed the grand jury's claim that an
independent investigation of his office was needed.
"The sheriff's office is committed to a thorough and complete
investigation of these serious allegations and has no bias or
interest in favoring any group, religion or sect," Edwards said.
"If policy violations occurred, then any employee who commits such
infractions will be dealt with in a manner consistent with policy
and applicable law, and the Internal Affairs team has been
instructed to vigorously pursue the investigation."
When a 23-member grand jury was impaneled for the April term to
consider criminal indictments, it also was instructed by the
district attorney's office to inspect county voting machines and
"While investigating security and conditions at the
Athens-Clarke County Jail, the grand jury heard testimony alleging
inappropriate proselytizing/ recruitment of jail inmates by
deputies affiliated with the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors
sect," the panel's presentment states. "The grand jury further
heard testimony confirming attempted correspondence between
certain deputies and (York), who is currently a convicted felon
and prisoner at the Federal Administrative Maximum Security Prison
in Florence, Colo."
The panel's investigation came soon after Edwards fired his
chief jailer, Brett Hart, who initiated the internal affairs
investigation of Nuwaubian deputies, who Hart described as a
disruptive and racially divisive influence at the jail.
Three Nuwaubian deputies testified before the grand jury,
including one who actually wrote a letter to York telling the
Nuwaubian leader he heeded York's call for "brothers" to join law
enforcement. Three Nuwaubian deputies were later suspended,
including one who appeared before the grand jury.
In response to the grand jury's assertions that the sheriff's
office lacked policies forbidding certain inappropriate behavior
by deputies, Edwards said there are "effective policies in place"
concerning deputies associating with convicted felons.
"While all policies are currently under review, they will be
revised appropriately and/or if needed to obtain accreditation
through the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police state
certification program," Edwards said. "With all due respect to the
grand jury, agencies cannot revise policies simply because others
disagree with interpretations reached based upon the
circumstances. Any changes or applications of policy must involve
factual scrutiny and protect the constitutional rights of all
Edwards said in his statement he would welcome outside
assistance in the jail investigation.
"Because the investigation is continuing, the information by
the grand jury was incomplete, and its conclusions that the
sheriff's office cannot properly conduct such an investigation
seems based, in part, on a possible misunderstanding of
well-established state and federal law regarding the rights of
public employees," Edwards said. "While the sheriff's office is
continuing its investigation, it also actively seeks, and will
welcome, investigative assistance from a qualified and objective
agency or individual."