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Evidence against Hood unveiled

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Clayton County District Attorney's investigation of Donald Ray Hood, former director of the county's building and maintenance department, shows the man may have participated in, or even perpetuated a culture of lax accounting and petty graft. But, only one piece of paper in the thick case file purports to connect him to the crime with which he was charged.

Hood, a 62-year-old Hampton man, who worked for the county for almost 20 years, was charged with stealing a flag intended for the memorial of a fallen police officer. He adamantly denied it. His attorney, William J. Atkins, alleged that the prosecution was politically motivated, the felony charge manufactured in an attempt to pressure Hood to give up potentially damaging information about the district attorney's perceived political enemies.

District Attorney Jewel Scott has denied the lawyer's claims, saying the case against Hood was "solid," and the evidence showed he stole a flag.

After prosecutors filed a motion saying they intended to try to take away Hood's retirement and benefits, the man shot himself in the chest and died at his Hampton home. He was discovered there by his wife of 43 years.

According to his family and his attorney, Hood was afraid he would never be able to prove his innocence, was feeling persecuted by a powerful office and was afraid he would lose his retirement pension and his home, leaving his wife without that financial support.

On Tuesday night, with the Clayton County Board of Commissioners calling for the investigation of the district attorney, Scott repeated that the case against Hood is solid. She said it was her job to prosecute criminals "without fear or favor," and defended her office's handling of the case.

Two days later, with the case against the now-dead man ended, the district attorney opened the case file.

Obtained by the Clayton News Daily through an Open Records Request, the file shows only one witness accused Hood of taking the flag.

A former subordinate, Jeffery Alan Dobbins, wrote a statement saying, "Donnie Hood took the flag from me, placed it in the top drawer of a file cabinet, removed a smaller, cheaper nylon flag and said 'I like this flag. Here put this one in the [officer's memorial] instead.'"

The file shows that three other witnesses stated the flag in the memorial is not the flag originally intended for the purpose, but none of them knew anything about who took the first flag. One explicitly writes he "cannot say that I witnessed the removal and/or replacement of the flag itself. I was told by Jeff Dobbins that a different flag was substituted by Director Donnie Hood."

Dobbins declined to comment for this article.

The original cloth flag was never found, and from what was is in the case file from the district attorney, Dobbins' statement is the only piece of evidence connecting Hood to the disappearance. Nothing substantiates his story.

Asked, in the days before the Hood file was opened, if the case consisted of "just one witness," those involved in the investigation vigorously denied it. The district attorney's office warned that the information in the file would wound Hood's already grieving family.

That information amounts to two investigations by the Clayton County Police Department into reported, and repeatedly alleged graft, in the building and maintenance department, under Hood's direction.

Hood was investigated in 2003 after an anonymous e-mail was sent to county commissioners alleging Hood had taken county materials for his own home and paid county employees to work on his personal projects ,while they were on the clock. During the investigation, police spoke to a number of Hood's subordinates.

Those who clearly wanted to protect the director and those who wanted to hurt him, described a relaxed department where employees would borrow tools, use the shop for personal projects and side businesses, take home building materials and promise to reimburse the county later. According to the employee's statements to police in 2003, rules guarding against graft were vague and unenforced. Honesty, at the department, seems to have depended mostly on personal honor, and fear of getting turned in by co-workers.

At the end of the investigation, however, the police department concluded almost all of the allegations against Hood were unfounded. He was reprimanded for taking home a county dump truck for personal use, and it was proven that county-owned wood was used in building the kitchen cabinets in Hood's home. According to the investigation, though, there was no evidence Hood knew the materials were county property.

Hood reimbursed the county for the cabinet wood, and reportedly took measures to clean up the department. He forbade any employees from working on personal projects in the county shop, stopped the practice of borrowing the county's tools and emphasized all non-government jobs were to be done after hours.

The department director after Hood, Les Markland, told police that accounting for the county's building materials, purchased in bulk, continued to be a problem.

Another anonymous e-mail was sent in June 2007, and police investigated the charges again, even though there were no new allegations. The second investigation was closed in three days, reaching the same conclusion as the first.

Hood and his attorney, Atkins, described the anonymous e-mails as part of an ongoing attempt to bring Hood down. According to them, the accusations were made by disgruntled employees, and former employees, and the false allegations were rightly disregarded until the district attorney, allegedly, decided she could use them for her own purposes.

At the grand jury hearing indicting Hood on the felony theft charge, the same list of county employees, and former employees, testified. They accused Hood of the previously-dismissed allegation, and other unrelated allegations.

Prior to Hood's death, prosecutors said they intended to bring up all the prior allegations made against Hood as a way to convince a jury Hood was motivated by an ongoing desire to rip-off the county. Prosecutors also admitted they were reviving all the previous allegations in response to Atkins' very public accusations of political corruption in the district attorney's office.

Now, however, Hood is dead, and his case will never be heard by a jury of his peers.