[avatar user=”brennanleathers” align=”left”]Brennan Leathers[/avatar]
I covered the Decatur County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, July 8. During the meeting, county commissioners held an approximately 20-minute long closed session to discuss litigation matters; they had also held long executive sessions to discuss litigation and personnel matters at both of their June meetings.
After the July 8 meeting adjourned, I privately asked Decatur County Board of Commissioners Frank Loeffler whether county commissioners had held a vote during a closed session at their June 24 meeting.There had been speculation that commissioners voted to assist with the legal expenses of county employees who were targeted by the federal grand jury investigation related to the September 2012 Bikefest incident in which Sheriff’s deputies are accused of causing injury to Ronnie Aaron Parrish.
Loeffler told me that county commissioners had not voted to assist any county employees for their legal expenses related to the federal grand jury’s probe. He said he could not elaborate on the legal matter discussed by commissioners; at that time, the grand jury investigation was not publicly known about.
Loeffler said that county commissioners, with the county administrator and county attorney present during the closed meeting, had discussed whether or not Decatur County government would be in a position to reimburse the legal expenses of those targeted by the grand jury investigation. Loeffler said “the general consensus [of the board] was yes, we would want to do that.” However, Loeffler told me the reimbursements were discussed within the context of a scenario in which Decatur County commissioners were named as defendants in a civil lawsuit. To our knowledge, no civil lawsuit has yet been filed and a lawsuit regarding events at Bainbridge Bikefest would presumably be a legal action in Decatur County Superior Court–thus totally separate from the investigation of a grand jury in the U.S. Circuit Court.
I asked Loeffler if county commissioners had made a decision by an informal means such as a vote of general consensus, in which a yes or no vote is not required. He said no.
I asked Loeffler if county commissioners had discussed the reimbursement of legal expenses and then instructed County Administrator Gary Breedlove to take a related action. Loeffler said no.
I asked if at any time up to our conversation on July 8 if any money had been issued by Decatur County government to county employees as reimbursement of legal fees, and Loeffler said no money had been paid out.
It’s important to note that it’s possible that other people besides the four local Sheriff’s deputies indicted on July 9 could be considered targets of the grand jury investigation, and may have been sent letters to the effect that they were being investigated and were invited to testify before the grand jury in Macon, Ga. Also, one of the four people indicted so far by the federal grand jury–Wiley Griffin IV–is not, and has never been an employee of Decatur County; Griffin was employed as a Grady County Sheriff’s deputy at the time of the September 2012 Bikefest incident the grand jury’s investigation concerns.
County commissioners have not met since the grand jury investigation became public; to date, they have never referenced either the grand jury investigation or the potential of a possible civil lawsuit stemming from the incidents at Bikefest 2012. County commissioners’ next regularly scheduled meeting is July 22 at 7 p.m. at the County Administration Building at 203 W. Broughton Street.
UPDATE: Comments from Commissioner Russell Smith
Contacted by phone Thursday afternoon, Decatur County Commissioner Russell Smith said an informal poll regarding county employees’ legal expenses was part of a closed session at the June 24 county commissioners’ meeting. That meeting was held at 7 p.m. and lasted until almost 9 p.m. because of a long closed session. All of the commissioners were physically present except for Butch Mosely, who participated in the meeting by telephone link.
“Of course, you don’t take a vote in executive session. He kind of polled everybody and everybody agreed — this was before they were indicted — they were saying that they needed to have representation when they were giving statements. That was way before they were indicted.”
Smith said it was his understanding, based on what County Attorney Brown Moseley had told him, that Bikefest made a check to the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office, and therefore the county would be liable.
“We have to look after county employees … if there were off-duty, that was one thing. If they were on-duty, that’s something else. That’s something we will have to discuss at Tuesday’s meeting.”
“I’m past law enforcement. Back in my time, several times during my career, I had staff that while they were on-duty, they needed representation and they got representation and I was in favor of it.”
“They were in uniform and were technically on-duty.”
We asked Smith, “So the deputies were paid by the Sheriff and Bikefest reimbursed the Sheriff’s Office?”
“That was my understanding,” Smith said.
I asked Smith about Loeffler’s statement that no money had been paid for legal expenses prior to July 8.
“I don’t think there had been any reimbursement because it was too fast. We just agreed, that the people that were being interviewed needed representation. Any county employee, whether they were being investigated or giving a statement, they needed to have an attorney present. Because an attorney can tell them what to say or what not to say, mainly what not to say.”