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Indicted former official surrenders, proclaims innocence

Williams

Williams

Ousted Forest Park City Council Ward 2 Representative Karen-Brandee Williams surrendered to the Clayton County Jail Monday morning on felony indictments and proclaimed her innocence on the charges that also led to her being removed from office in July.

Williams, 45, said she was “embarrassed, shocked and astonished” at the indictment but appreciated the consideration shown her by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. She surrendered at 7:28 a.m. and was released at 8:11 a.m., according to the jail docket. Her attorney, Quinton Washington, said Williams posted a $3,000 bond.

Williams was indicted Wednesday on charges of theft by deception, violation of oath of public office and making false statements. The charges are related to the purchase of about 30 T-shirts for about $230 of taxpayers’ money, said Washington.

An ethics hearing officer determined last year that the wording on the shirts constituted campaign material, which violates Georgia election laws. Williams, elected in 2009 to her first public office, insisted that the shirts promoted a citywide event. Washington said there are checks and balances in city government that would have caught such a misuse of public funds.

“Newly-elected officials undergo training to learn what they can and can’t do once they take office,” he said. “But the full-time city employees are supposed to police what the officials do. They should have approved the design. That never happened. Now they’re saying she had intent to deceive. Now they are prosecuting her for T-shirts. It’s a T-shirt indictment. Is that really the best use of the district attorney’s resources?”

Williams was ousted from office July 28 following the confirmation of 15 of 25 ethics violation allegations brought against her by several residents. She’s filed an appeal in Clayton County Superior Court. Williams alleges almost a dozen errors in the council’s actions against her, including selective prosecution and the argument that the board’s very decision was illegal.

Williams states in her filing that the errors include the allegation that the 4-0 vote to remove her violates the city charter because five votes were not cast, that Williams cannot commit ethical violations when she is acting legally and in her official capacity to assist citizens, and that the three residents were allowed to collaborate on one ethics complaint that includes 25 counts.

Washington said he has asked for a court date in the civil action but has not been assigned one yet. The Ward 2 seat remains vacant until a final ruling is issued in the matter. Washington is hopeful for a positive outcome.

“I think the judge will hold that she be re-seated,” he said. “And I believe she will be exonerated in the criminal case.”

The civil appeal is being heard by Clayton County Chief Judge Deborah Benefield. Superior Court Judge Matthew O. Simmons has been assigned to the criminal case. Simmons served as Forest Park city councilman and mayor before being elected to the bench but never served with Williams.