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A police department cannot record the conversations of an incarcerated juvenile, says Cobb County (Ga.) Superior Court Judge George H. Kreeger. The Powder Springs Police Department improperly recorded Heath A. Meehan’s telephone calls from jail, Kreeger said in an order issued last Wednesday. State v. Meehan, No. 00900289-18 (Cobb Super. Jan. 28, 2000). Meehan, then 17, was charged with murder in the shooting death last October of William Michael McGee Jr. He was held at the Powder Springs jail for about 20 hours after the shooting, which may have stemmed from a game of “chicken” or Russian roulette, according to police. Meehan allegedly made incriminating statements in phone calls from the jail to family members. Georgia jails vary in their policies on the taping of inmate phone calls, with some never doing it without a court order and others routinely taping all calls. This is the first time taping has been challenged because it involved a juvenile pre-trial detainee, according to defense attorney Jeffrey B. Bogart of Atlanta’s Bogart & Bogart. At last week’s hearing on the motion to suppress the tapes, Bogart argued that his client’s privacy rights had been violated. Bogart says that O.C.G.A. 16-11-62 only allows the visual recording of jailhouse activity. Telephone conversations, he says, are exempted from the law. Judge Kreeger’s ruling did not address the distinction between recording prison activity and recording telephone conversations. The ruling states that according to O.C.G.A. 16-11-66(b), police officers are permitted to tape prisoners’ telephone calls unless the prisoner is under the age of 18. Only a superior court judge’s order, the statute says, can provide consent for the recording of telephone conversations of a person under 18. For that reason, says Kreeger, “the Powder Springs Police Department improperly recorded [Meehan's] conversations,” and the audiotapes will be inadmissible in the criminal proceedings against Meehan. The Powder Springs Police Department’s policy of taping the phone conversations of pre-trial detainees was unusual for a metropolitan area jail. In Fulton County, only pay telephones are available to inmates for outgoing calls. The phones are not monitored, and the calls are not recorded, says Captain David F. Chadd, public information officer for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. Chadd says that it is not typical to record phone calls unless an inmate has been convicted of a crime. “You’ve got to remember they are still pre-trial,” says Chadd. “Normally, when they tape your conversations, they must have some kind of judicial order.” The Atlanta City Jail does not normally tape inmate conversations, according to Gayle Middlebrook, public information officer for the Atlanta Department of Corrections. But if police and prosecutors provide proof that it is necessary to tape inmate calls, says Middlebrook, the jail will tape the calls of pre-trial detainees. “If there’s a high-level investigation, and police and prosecutors go through the proper channels such as getting a search warrant, we will tape inmate conversations,” Middlebrook says. “We don’t do it unless there’s cause.” The Cobb County jail does not tape the phone conversations of pre-trial detainees, according to Lt. Col. Donald L. Bartlett of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office. “We just don’t do it,” says Bartlett. “We haven’t found the need to do it.” All inmate calls are recorded at the DeKalb jail, according to Cherlea Dorsey, a spokeswoman for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. “Inmates are aware that their phone calls are monitored and recorded,” says Dorsey. The inmates receive a handbook that informs them that their calls are being recorded. Also, the internal jailhouse television channel reminds prisoners that the telephones are monitored. When an inmate places a call, a recording on the phone informs both parties to the conversation that the call is being recorded. In Gwinnett County, the detention facility personnel do not record pre-trail detainees’ telephone calls. “We’re not sure it’s admissible,” says Chief Deputy Wayne Bolden of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office. “We have to operate by the rules, and that is the rule right now.”

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