By Daniel Silliman
The Clayton County District Attorney's office plans to release more evidence against Donald Ray Hood -- evidence prosecutors say proves the former director of the county's maintenance department stole a flag intended for the memorial of a fallen police officer.
Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Turner said that on Tuesday the office will release a video tape of his interview with Hood. According to Turner, the tape shows Hood agreeing to talk with prosecutors, acknowledging he had the flag at one time, and shows him cooperating with the ongoing investigation of allegations that the building and maintenance department did illegal work on the homes of elected, county officials.
"He tells us he took [the flag] 'so it wouldn't get dirty' and he says he doesn't know what happened to it after that," Turner said, describing the tape Monday evening.
"He agreed to work with us at the end of the tape," Turner said. "I thought he was going to cooperate and take a lesser plea."
According to Turner, Hood's cooperation changed when he retained attorney William J. Atkins. Atkins responded to the offer of testimony in exchange for a reduced charge against Hood with a lengthy motion alleging that county prosecutors were politically motivated, and ought to be disqualified.
"Until his lawyer filed his motion," Turner said, "I thought he was going to cop a plea. Things spiraled out of control from that side of things."
Atkins' motion was filed on Feb. 21. The district attorney's office replied with motions filed on Feb. 27, moving to take away Hood's retirement benefits and to bring up three previous, unrelated cases in which Hood was accused of stealing county property.
Two days later, Hood shot himself in the chest with a handgun, and died at his Hampton home.
Atkins claims the district attorney's office contributed to Hood's death, and that it never had the evidence to support the prosecution, which, he said, was always about political gain, and not about justice or a missing flag.
According to Atkins, the district attorney's husband, Lee Scott, pushed the investigation into work that may have been done on County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell's Jonesboro home, hoping to find damning information about Bell, weakening him as Scott runs against him in the upcoming election.
Though the district attorney's office admits the Hood case began with the ongoing investigation in the building and maintenance department's alleged work on Bell's home, the office adamantly denies any political motivation. The office responded by releasing the investigative case file last week, and is now going to release the taped interview.
Atkins, who is representing the family now that Hood is dead, said he hasn't seen the interview, because he never got discovery, but he doesn't believe Turner's interpretation of Hood's statements.
"I think this is a matter of perception, rather than reality," Atkins said.
According to Atkins, Hood told the district attorney about work he had done and work he had arranged for elected officials, but none of it was using county materials, and all the work was done after hours.
According to Atkins, Hood admitted to handling the flag, but said he was in a departmental meeting with four, or maybe five, people, discussing the flag and how they would drape it in the memorial, shadow box being built at the Clayton County Police Department's north precinct. Hood said he had the flag -- which was five-feet wide and nine-feet long and shaped to drape over a coffin. He said it wasn't going to fit in the memorial box, and he tried to fold it back up. He couldn't, though, because he didn't know the military manner of folding flags, according to his attorney.
Hood then gave it to someone else, who had military service, and they placed the folded flag into a cabinet, where it was supposed to sit until the memorial was complete, according Atkins. Hood claimed that was the last he saw of the now-missing flag.
The key to the district attorney's case against Hood is a witness who swore he gave the flag to Hood. In the released case file, the only thing that appears to directly connect Hood to the flag is the statement of Jeffery Alan Dobbins, who built the memorial.
Dobbins testified to a grand jury and wrote a statement -- contained in the file -- that said: "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 box instead.'"
Court documents show that Dobbins was arrested and charged with aggravated assault in the summer of 2006, and the case is still in the district attorney's office, waiting to be presented to a grand jury or dismissed. He allegedly threw a knife at his son and then told police that, "one of them needed to die."
Reached by phone Monday, Dobbins said he wasn't pressured by the district attorney's office and his pending charge didn't have any bearing on his statement about the flag. He characterized the assault charge as "basically a misunderstanding," and said that immediately before he went into the district attorney's office to testify about the flag, he ran into his attorney, who told him that the case against him had been dropped.
Court records didn't show the case was dropped Monday morning, but Turner "uncategorically" denied that the charge had any relationship to Dobbins' testimony. "Nothing was offered to him," Turner said. "I didn't know about it, and he didn't bring it up."
Turner said he believed Dobbins was a reliable witness in the case, and pointed out that the grand jury believed him, even after hearing Hood give his side of the story of the missing flag. The district attorney's office has repeated the statement that the case was "solid," and Turner said he was confident in the case, with Dobbins as the sole witness to the alleged theft.
Dobbins, however, when interviewed by the Clayton News Daily, said he was asked about the flag and he told the prosecutors that when he saw it last, Hood had it.
"I never used the word 'stole,'" Dobbins said. "I never have. I don't know [that he stole it]. The last time I saw it, it was still on county property."
The county-employed carpenter said he stood by his sworn statement, but he thought that the prosecutors had other evidence against Hood.
"I didn't want to be involved in the first place," Dobbins said. "Donnie Hood was always good to me. I bear him no ill will."
According to Dobbins, when he gave the cloth flag to his boss and was given a "smaller, cheaper nylon" replacement, he didn't really think about it, except maybe to note it as "odd." He didn't think he had witnessed a theft. Dobbins said he doesn't know why anyone would steal the flag. It was an odd shape, couldn't endure weather, and only had personal value. Like a photo album, he said, it's not really something that would be stolen.
According to him, he saw Hood keep the flag and say "I like this flag," but he doesn't know what that meant.
"I didn't ask why," he said. "I was pressed for time and I just went ahead and did what I was supposed to do, and built the cabinet."