By Daniel Silliman
After he was arrested on a felony charge that he stole a flag intended for the memorial of a fallen police officer, Donald Ray Hood appears to have agreed to aid the district attorney's investigations, in exchange for a lesser charge.
In a 43-minute audio recording of an interview the district attorney's office conducted with the former director of the Clayton County Building and Maintenance Department -- released by the district attorney's office Tuesday -- Hood never confesses to doing anything wrong. He says, however, that he is interested in an offered plea deal. He promises to tell what he knows and turn over notes to help in an investigation of Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy.
"Are you willing to help the state in terms of your expertise and knowledge in that investigation?" Executive Assistant District Attorney John Turner asks near the end of the recording.
"I'll do whatever I need to do," Hood says. "I've tried to answer all the questions as honest as I can."
During 15 minutes of the interview, Hood is asked about the missing flag, and discusses what he knew about it and when he saw it last. He also spends about 15 minutes answering questions about work that may have been done on the homes of some elected officials using county employees on county time. He answers questions about Murphy for the final 10 minutes of the recording released by the prosecutor's office.
At the very end of the Feb. 1 interview, as Turner is preparing to release Hood, Hood repeats that he will cooperate, saying, "I'm trying to toss all this over in my mind. Looking for anything that would be helpful."
In the days after that meeting, however, Hood didn't turn over any notes. It is not clear why Hood stopped cooperating with the district attorney. After his arrest was reported on television and he retained an attorney, the case became a series of public, aggressive and escalating exchanges.
Hood's lawyer, William J. Atkins, accused District Attorney Jewel Scott of pressuring Hood and using the charge against him to try to gain information that would be helpful in going after political rivals.
The political backdrop and connections involved in this case are interesting. According to publicly available documents, the district attorney accepted campaign contributions from Murphy's friends and -- in an unusual arrangement -- accepted funding for an investigator position in the district attorney's office from the city of Lovejoy, where Murphy is mayor.
In exchange, Atkins alleges, the prosecutors sat on an investigation into allegations that Murphy was profiting from his position as a building inspector. According to the lawyer, they agreed to go after Hood, who had tangled with Murphy in the past.
Atkins further alleges that the district attorney was also using Hood to continue an ongoing investigation into Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, in hopes of weakening him because her husband, Lee Scott, plans to run against Bell in the 2008 election.
Though Jewel Scott and her chief prosecutor, John Turner, have acknowledged the ongoing investigation of some public officials, and a relationship between the investigation and the charge against Hood, they have adamantly denied the implication that Hood was a political pawn.
The office responded to the allegations of political conspiracy with a motion declaring their intent to bring up past allegations against Hood, calling him "kleptomanical," and another motion declaring their intent to take away Hood's retirement benefits.
Hood, 62 year's old and retired after almost 20 years working for the county, shot himself in the chest at his Hampton home. He died there on Feb. 29, a month after his interview with the district attorney's office.
Though indicted and arrested, Hood doesn't sound, on the released recording, as if he believes the investigator and prosecutor think he took the flag. He's asked, by investigator, Earnest Nesmith, about "some circumstances pertaining to a U.S. flag that was taken through your tenure at Clayton County." He's asked, specifically, "what happened when you saw that flag in your office?"
According to Hood, he and others at the building and maintenance department had the flag, while building a memorial shadow box for Clayton County Police Sgt. Michael Davis, who died while on duty in 2005. Hood says, in the recording, that the flag was measured and examined as they tried to figure out how to put the five-feet wide and nine-feet long flag into the small box. Hood says he wasn't directly involved in building the memorial, and doesn't remember a lot of details, though.
"There's some bookshelves in the conference room," Hood says. "The last time I remember seeing a flag, it was in there where it would be accessible. It was folded up and put into the cabinet. It was accessible to myself, or Les [Markland, assistant director], or Jeff Dobbins [county-employed cabinet maker], where they could come in and measure it. ... That room was accessible to most anybody, most of the time. That room's accessible to most anybody who'd want to go in there. We kept the doors shut. But we didn't keep them locked."
The missing flag, which was reportedly replaced by a smaller, cheaper, nylon flag, has not been found.