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Hood pleads not guilty to flag theft charge

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A man accused of stealing a flag from the memorial of a fallen officer pled not guilty before a Clayton County Superior Court judge on Wednesday afternoon.

The memorial -- a shadow box at the Clayton County Police Department's north precinct -- was meant to honor Sgt. Michael Davis, who died in a car crash in 2005. Currently, there's no flag in the shadow box. A high-quality American flag, donated by the Veterans Administration, was supposed to hang there.

The district attorney's office alleges that Donald Ray Hood took the cloth flag, saying it was "nice," and replaced it with a cheap vinyl version.

Hood, former director of the county maintenance department, maintains he's innocent of the felony charge of theft of county property, and believes he's being prosecuted for political reasons. His lawyer, William J. Atkins, has filed a motion alleging that district attorney, Jewel Scott, is prosecuting Hood to get information against Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. Scott's husband, Lee, is running against Bell in an upcoming election for the seat.

Scott denies any political or personal motivations are involved in the case. Prosecutors have described the alleged theft -- which was reported to a grand jury during an ongoing investigation by the district attorney's office -- as an instance of Hood's "kleptomanical bent of mind."

Atkins' motion requests that the district attorney's office be disqualified from prosecuting the case, a motion Judge Albert Collier said he plans to hear on March 25.

After hearing Hood's plea, Collier said he hopes to try the case around the end of March, shortly after hearing the defense attorney's motion. He said he's preparing for the case, and is "bringing in extra jurors," because a lot of media attention may have prejudiced some potential members of the jury.

If convicted, Hood could face up to 10 years in prison and could lose his county retirement pension and benefits.