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Long-time Clayton employee dies amid controversy

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Donald Ray Hood is dead.

The 62-year-old, former director of the Clayton County Building and Maintence Department, who worked for the county for almost 20 years, was facing allegations he stole a flag from the memorial of a fallen police officer. He died Friday afternoon, at his Hampton home

Police said Hood was found face-down in his wood shop, killed by an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He was found there by his wife when she returned home at about 1:25 p.m. They had been married for 43 years.

"Right now, the family is grieving, and we're just trying to wrap our heads around this," Hood's attorney, William J. Atkins, said on Friday.

Hood was being aggressively prosecuted by the Clayton County District Attorney's office on charges of felony theft. He pled not guilty on Wednesday, and discovered prosecutors were attempting to take away his retirement benefits and attempting to use years-old allegations by a disgruntled subordinate to prove he was "kleptomanical" and had "an ongoing plan to loot and pilfer Clayton County property."

Atkins and Hood argued he was being prosecuted for political reasons.

When arrested on a charge he stole the flag, he was reportedly grilled for possibly damaging information about Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell. Bell is up for re-election this year, and the district attorney's husband, Lee Scott, is running against him in the Democratic primary.

Speaking to the Clayton News Daily on Feb. 21, Hood described the prosecution as "devastating," "a nightmare," and "difficult to comprehend." He said he'd never heard about the allegedly missing flag until the last few minutes of his testimony before a grand jury.

"It's like I've been slapped in the face," he said. "When we saw [the news of my arrest] on TV, my wife and I prayed. We wept together."

He said it was devastating to think his friends, family, and his parents might believe the allegations. He said he was afraid of District Attorney Jewel Scott's office, "because of the power it has," but he said he was relying on a higher power.

"With God's help, we're going to get through this," Hood said.

Leaving the family's home on Friday, Police Chief Jeff Turner said Hood had been under a lot of pressure and had been distraught by the threats made against his retirement.

"He did not deserve what happened here today," Turner said. "I've known Donnie Hood for a long time. He was a great servant to the citizens of Clayton County."

District Attorney Scott said she was shaken by the news.

"It is a regrettable situation when someone takes their own life, and we just want to express our sincere sympathy to Mr. Hood's family," she said in an official statement.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell was angry when he heard the news of Hood's death, and cried. He said he had never met a county employee who was more dedicated than Hood, and he described him as a prince and a gentleman.

"This man was charged with a crime he did not commit," Bell said. "His legacy will be, as he told me with his own lips, 'All he wanted to do was serve his fellow man.' He said that to me personally. This was wrong ... My heart is broken for him and his family."