By Daniel Silliman
Alleging political entanglements, a motion has been filed to disqualify the Clayton County District Attorney's Office from prosecuting a former director of the county maintenance department on charges of theft.
Donald Ray Hood, of Hampton, has been charged with taking an American flag intended for the memorial of a fallen Clayton County Police officer and replacing it with a cheaper flag. Hood and his attorney, William J. Atkins, maintain the felony charge is "scurrilous" and the prosecution is "nothing more than a politically motivated vendetta."
The motion outlines a nest of alleged political alliances and battles that involve the following people:
· Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott,
· Scott's husband, Lee, who is a candidate for Clayton County Commission Chairman,
· Current Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell,
· Former chief of staff for the district attorney and current candidate for Clayton Commission Chairman Earl Randall,
·Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy.
Atkins alleges that Hood is being sacrificed in a deal to form a political alliance.
According to Atkins' motion, filed Thursday afternoon, Jewel Scott has buried an investigation of Murphy and has charged Hood in an attempt to indict Bell, a move which would garner both Scotts the political and financial support of Murphy and others, and would politically weaken Bell as he runs for re-election.
"The district attorney has the absolute duty to ensure that politics never crosses the threshold of that office," Atkins said. "It cannot, and when it does, it affects our entire system of justice. People need to believe that a prosecutor's office is above reproach. I don't see how anybody could think that about Jewel Scott's office."
Scott denied all the allegations and said there is no political motivation to the charge against Hood. There is nothing behind the charge, according to Scott, except evidence of an unexplainable theft, which dishonored an office who died in the line of duty.
"This is just the defense attorney's attempt to throw mud, to see what sticks," she said. "They're all false allegations and I fully expect the truth will come out."
According to the District Attorney's Office, the allegations against Hood came out of an ongoing investigation into allegations that county maintenance employees have done work on the homes of elected officials, including Bell. Those allegations -- which have not yet led to any indictments -- were made by Murphy. The Lovejoy Mayor and former county maintenance employee brought the accusation to a Clayton County grand jury last summer, and the grand jury approved the district attorney's investigation of the commission chairman.
Murphy was previously fired from his post with the county, on the basis of charges he had signed off on building permits without inspecting work done by companies to which he was financially connected. Hood was named director of the community department, over Murphy, while Murphy was under investigation by the Secretary of State's Office and the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. Hood was charged with cleaning up the department and aided both the state and the county's investigation of Murphy.
The state's investigation was referred to the county district attorney's office more than a year ago, but has yet to result in charges. According to Atkins, the Lovejoy Mayor is being protected in exchange for political ammunition against Bell, and support for Lee Scott's campaign for the county chairmanship.
According to Atkins, Murphy also arranged $87,500 in funding for the district attorney's office, at the same time the office's investigation of him seemed to be buried.
In January, the Lovejoy city council voted to provide the county district attorney's office with about $87,500 for an investigator and an investigator's vehicle -- funds denied to the office by Bell.
According to the city council's meeting minutes, Murphy instructed the city's attorney to research the funding possibility, an arrangement which was previously unheard of in Clayton County. Councilman Bobby Cartwright, according to the minutes, described the move as necessary until "we can go up there and do something about the leadership we have in the county. Because that's what we need to do next."
Murphy could not be reached for comment.
Jewel Scott said that Lovejoy's financial support of her office is only an example of "the cities stepping up" to fill a need left unmet by the county budget. She said she is taking similar proposals to other cities. Scott's chief executive assistant district attorney, John Turner, said the prosecution of Murphy is "still very much on the front burner. His case isn't being overlooked, forgotten, or not pursued."
Turner called the motion's allegations of political entanglement "just fabricated fantasy."
Many of the allegations in Atkins' motion were made or corroborated by former district attorney chief of staff, Earl Randall, who was fired before Christmas. He is also being represented by Atkins and plans to sue the office. He, also, is running for county chairman -- against Bell and Lee Scott.
Donald Hood, who worked for the county for 19 years, said that, personally, he doesn't care about all the political plots and alliances. When arrested on charges of stealing a flag, he claims the district attorney's investigators only asked him one question about the flag, but grilled him for any damning information he might have against Bell. Hood said he told the prosecutors he didn't have any allegiance to, or affection for, Bell, but he didn't know of any instances where the chairman committed a crime.
Though the prosecutors "went so far as to offer to reduce the charge," Atkins claims, Hood refused to make any allegations against Bell.
"It's a nightmare," Hood said. "I'm telling you I never thought I could get caught in this political circle... It's devastating. We've never been through anything like this, and I hope we never have to again."
Hood's arraignment is set for Feb. 27. He adamantly said he will plead not guilty.
The motion to disqualify the district attorney from prosecuting the case could be held as early as the end of March.