Photo by Curt Yeomans
An investigator from the Clayton County District Attorney's office collects supplies outside the Clayton County Board of Commissioners office, in Jonesboro, on Wednesday. The DA's office spent the day executing a search warrant at the county's finance office.
Approximately a dozen investigators from Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson’s office spent Wednesday searching records and equipment at the county’s finance office, as part of an ongoing investigation into corruption in the county.
The investigators were executing a search warrant at the finance office, and took an unknown number of records that will likely be reviewed by a special purpose grand jury that has been meeting for the last year. Investigators moved around the second floor of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners building, in Jonesboro, as they searched through, and boxed up, county finance records.
Several county employees could be heard chatting among one another, as they speculated on what had precipitated the move by the District Attorney’s Office. Lawson, meanwhile, was mostly tight-lipped about what was going on.
“I have had a special grand jury investigating public corruption in Clayton County since April of last year,” the district attorney explained. She later added, “Investigators are searching documents from the finance department under a search warrant [that is tied to the grand jury’s work].”
The move by Lawson’s office was not totally unexpected. Lawson sought an indictment, last year, of county Finance Director Angela Jackson. The indictment would have been for four felony counts of “Avoid a Public Record,” and one misdemeanor count of allegedly violating the state’s records retention law.
It was postponed after the county attempted to prevent two attorneys for the county — including one who has since left his position — from testifying before the grand jury in its review of Jackson. Although no indictment has apparently been handed down, Lawson declined to comment if Wednesday’s search was tied to that case.
She also declined to say if she was going to seek any indictments based on information found in the finance department’s records. “We will go where the evidence takes us,” she said.
Although it is not clear how many documents were taken by Lawson’s investigators, it was likely a large volume of records. At one point, employees from the county’s central services department were observed taking at least a dozen boxes of copier paper into the finance office Wednesday afternoon.
The central services department reportedly had received an emergency call in the afternoon from officials in the finance office, who were asking for copier paper to quickly be brought to their office.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he did not know the search was going to happen until Wednesday morning, but he pledged to cooperate with the investigation. “In my view, we are going to do all we have to do to cooperate with their investigation,” he said. “We are on record as providing the District Attorney’s Office with all of the information needed that is in our possession.”
Bell also said Clayton County residents should be “reassured that their government is open and transparent,” and “certainly, it is the intention of the office of the [county] commission to be trustworthy in any and all dealings with the county’s money.”
To date, Lawson said the work of her special purpose grand jury has helped lead to the indictments of former Morrow City Councilman John Lampl, former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, former sheriff’s office employees Jonathan Newton and Beatrice Powell, and former Clayton County Water Authority Manager Linton Herbert Etheridge, Jr.
She added that it has also helped lead to the resignation of former Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy.