Officials close former district attorney's building

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Clayton County Police Lt. Tina Daniel, points to photos showing alleged violations at the Tara Center, which was closed down this week.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Clayton County Police Lt. Tina Daniel, points to photos showing alleged violations at the Tara Center, which was closed down this week.

Clayton County officials shut down a building housing former district attorney Jewel Scott's law office Thursday, citing numerous fire-and building-code violations.

The Tara Center, located on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, also housed a daycare center, but was not permitted or licensed to operate as such, said Clayton County Fire Assistant Chief Landry Merkison.

A large part of the building was rented for private events.

Merkison said the building was closed following a routine annual inspection. "The structure was unsafe for children there, and the businesses located up there, but the children are our main concern," said Merkison, Thursday. "The owners need to immediately take corrective action."

Scott, who was district attorney from 2005, until 2008, when she lost a bid for re-election, went into private practice with one of her assistant prosecutors.

She said, Thursday, that the closing is political because of past alleged incidents involving Fire Chief Jeff Hood's brother, the late Donnie Hood. Hood worked for the county while Scott was district attorney, and was the subject of an investigation and threatened prosecution the district attorney, on an alleged theft charge. Donnie Hood took his own life while the case was still in progress.

"That's very disturbing to me; it's propaganda," Scott said. "Obviously, it's political and I feel targeted."

But Merkison said firefighters conduct 4,000 annual inspections in Clayton, and the Tara Center was not singled out. "Politics has nothing to do with this," he said. "We don't get involved in politics. We do these inspections in every building in Clayton County. Politics don't play into this."

Scott said her building is not unsafe, and she has never gotten a violation since buying the building in 1992, with her husband, Lee Scott.

"They are trying to impact my livelihood, and there is no need for that to be," said Scott. She said she has asked for a personal meeting with Hood, but Merkison said Hood declined the request.

Merkison said the Scotts were not cited for the violations, only made aware of what they are. They have 30 days to make repairs and corrections.

"They already have a sprinkler company on site, and that's what we like to see," he said. "If they miss the 30 days, we will issue citations and take the case to the code enforcement board. It is to their benefit to meet the 30 days."

If the Scotts remain out of compliance, the board can impose fines.

At issue, aside from fire violations, is the determination that the structure has not been permitted or licensed to operate a daycare center. Clayton County Police Lt. Tina Daniel said two rooms had been designated for use as after-school care and tutoring, but inspectors found the use expanded out into other areas of the building not intended for use children.

Also, Daniel said, the rules for permitting a tutoring center, and those for operating a daycare center, are completely different.

"They do have a permit for the law office, but not for a daycare center," she said. "For a daycare center to operate, you have to have proper permits, and be licensed the state. They have neither of those."

Officials do not know who owns and operates the daycare center. "It is unclear who operates the daycare center," said Merkison. "There is just a sign that says, 'Summer Camp.'"

Daniel said about five preschool-age children were at the center during Wednesday's inspection.

Merkison said the violations include: multiple locks on exit doors; exits leading to fenced areas; combustibles in equipment rooms; no sprinkler system test reports available; extension cords being used as permanent wiring; padlocks on doors; no fire alarm system as required for daycare centers; open junction boxes; kitchen hood suppression systems not serviced; and no panic hardware on egress doors.

No one is allowed inside the building, except workers making corrections for the violations, said Merkison, although Scott will be allowed to get her client records. Scott said she will continue to stay in business.

"I will continue to see clients until this is resolved," she said. "I can meet them somewhere else. I need to find out if this is political, because this building is not unsafe. How can it be when it passed inspection a few months ago?"