Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin said he will not ask Decatur County Commissioners to pay legal expenses for his son, Wiley Griffin IV, at this time.
Speaking during the public participation portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, Sheriff Griffin said he was confident the four current and former Sheriff’s deputies indicted by a federal grand jury will be exonerated after the legal proceedings are complete.
However, the Sheriff said that he hoped that in the event that his son was found to be innocent of the charges he was indicted on, that county officials would “do the right thing” and reimburse the legal fees.
The Sheriff said he and his wife, Cindy Pennell Griffin, along with their families, planned to take care of Wiley Griffin IV’s legal expenses.
Video of Sheriff Wiley Griffin speaking to county commissioners on Tuesday night (click the Youtube logo to enlarge the video window, if desired).
Decatur County Commissioners went into closed session at 7:52 p.m. to discuss litigation, real estate and personnel. They resumed the open meeting at 9:18 p.m. The closed meeting lasted 86 minutes, with commissioners resigning to a conference room separate from the public meeting room for that duration.
More than 100 people attended the meeting; there was standing room only in the meeting room of the Decatur County Administration Building in Bainbridge. Many people had taken their seats an hour before the meeting started at 7 p.m.
When the open meeting resumed, Commission Chairman Frank Loeffler said no action would be taken on real estate or personnel matters. When it came to litigation, he yielded to County Attorney Brown Moseley, who made legal comments. Essentially, he said that his research concluded that the four persons indicted were working in uniform at Bikefest and were acting under the supervision of Sheriff Griffin.
“It’s my assessment that the county is obligated to provide legal representation to those individuals who were indicted,” County Attorney Moseley said.
County commissioners then proceeded to vote on whether or not to pay for the legal fees of those indicted, and were unanimous that they should. However, the county attorney clarified after the meeting that the commissioners’ decision did not include legal expenses for Wiley Griffin IV.
Comments by County Commissioner Frank Loeffler and County Attorney Brown Moseley after the 86-minute-long closed session ended and the public meeting was resumed. (Click to enlarge video window if desired).
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Loeffler said that the motion to approve payment of legal fees should indicate that the money would come out of Sheriff Griffin’s budget. However, Loeffler did not elaborate on details. County commissioners approve an annual budget for the Sheriff’s Office using money from the county’s general fund, but as an elected officer with powers granted by the Georgia Constitution, he has some leeway over how the money allotted to him is spent.
County Administrator Gary Breedlove said after the meeting that as of Tuesday night, county commissioners had only received one invoice from attorneys representing Liz Croley, Chris Kines and Wade Umbach. Breedlove said he believed the invoice was for approximately $3,900. The county attorney told The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight that Croley’s lawyer had submitted a bill for $3,940.
Breedlove referenced commissioners’ receipt of a $20,000 invoice for legal representation of Wiley Griffin IV, but county officials indicated last week that they did not intend to pay that invoice.
Sheriff Griffin was not invited into the closed session and left before the closed session had concluded. Griffin, who was supported by his wife Cindy at the meeting, said he was leaving to attend a conference in Gainesville, Ga., that was to begin on Wednesday.
Griffin politely declined to comment when we approached him during the closed session; he referred us to his prepared remarks that he gave earlier in the meeting and said he would have no further comment.
Breedlove said he was unfamiliar with whether Sheriff Griffin had previously spoken to county commissioners about having the legal expenses paid. We asked Breedlove to elaborate on the arrangement Sheriff Griffin had to pay the deputies working for him providing Bikefest security on Sept. 15, 2012, and the county administrator said that would be a question for the Sheriff, as Breedlove was not working for Decatur County at that time.
Citizens comment during public participation
Three other persons commented during public participation, which was held at the start of the meeting following the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance. They were Ted Snell, Jim Meredith and Robert Tate.
Jim Meredith took the position that county commissioners should not pay for legal expenses. Meredith turned to talk directly to Sheriff Griffin and used heated words to say what he thought of the Sheriff and his deputies.
“Many of us understand that police officers are supposed to understand constitutional rights,” Meredith said.
Robert Tate, who is a county volunteer fire department captain, spoke on behalf of the Bikefest festival organizers. Tate said he had received notice that this year’s Bikefest committee would have to pay a $2,500 “public gatherings” permit fee in order to hold the festival. Tate said that he understood county commissioners had previously waived such fees for the last 16 years that Bikefest had been operating. He said he believed it would be detrimental to Bikefest as a charitable organization.
Snell, who is a frequent speaker at local government meetings. Snell talked about elections and local governments’ millage rates.
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