Fulton County DA Paul Howard. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and his staff are not the only ones whose access to a county jail surveillance system has been deactivated by the county sheriff.
In addition to locking out the DA and his staff, a member of Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson’s staff has notified all county law enforcement that their agencies’ access to the Fulton County Jail’s surveillance system has been canceled.
In order to secure information from the Securus Technologies jail surveillance system, a law enforcement agency now will need a subpoena, according to a memo Howard gave to the Daily Report on Tuesday.
The Aug. 25 memo was issued 10 days after Jackson summarily terminated Howard’s Securus access and that of his staff and after Howard had sent a letter to the sheriff asking that access to the surveillance system be restored.
“Rather than do that,” Howard said, “he cut off everybody.”
Howard also said that Jackson has not yet abided by an Aug. 29 court order the district attorney obtained from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan. On Aug. 29, Tusan directed the sheriff to restore the DA’s access to the jail surveillance system, which included live and taped telephone calls as well as videotaped visitations with jail inmates. Jackson spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said the sheriff has referred the court order to the county attorney.
Howard said Tuesday that he had attempted unsuccessfully to speak with Jackson but had been directed by Jackson’s chief deputy to obtain a court order if he and his staff wanted their Securus access restored. Flanagan said that, for almost two weeks, Jackson “has been waiting for the district attorney to accept his invitation for a one-on-one meeting.” However, she added, “the DA insists on having a third party present.”
On Tuesday, Howard sent a letter to Jackson urgently requesting the sheriff to meet with him and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields to discuss a resolution to what Howard insisted was a “growing public safety issue.” The police department, Howard said, “is probably the second heaviest user of the [Securus] service” behind the DA’s office.
“We are hoping we can sit down and meet with them and figure out what the problem is,” Howard said. “Why would he not even comply with a court’s order?”
Howard said he could ask Tusan to hold Jackson in contempt. “I do not wish to ask her to do that,” he said. “Why would the sheriff, of all people, simply ignore a judge’s order? … Hopefully, we can get this settled with a reasonable conversation.”
Jackson declined through his spokeswoman to talk to the Daily Report about his decision. His office issued a short statement Tuesday in response to questions from the newspaper saying he and his staff were “re-evaluating” the surveillance system’s “administrative and operational protocols” and have asked for “a legal assessment of the Securus operations and use by our law enforcement partners.”
In a follow-up email, the department issued a third statement saying that law enforcement agencies may request access to jail recordings “by using a new form at the jail.” Jackson’s spokeswoman also referred questions to Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker. On Wednesday, Perkins-Hooker declined to comment, saying the matter involved “active, ongoing litigation.”
Howard said Tuesday that he, too, has been referred to the county attorney for an explanation as to why his staff is now barred from accessing the surveillance system. The DA said that his staff and other law enforcement agencies have password access to the Securus system and that the sheriff “is removing that convenience.”
Howard said that, by monitoring Securus, his staff has uncovered a successful plot by a jail inmate awaiting trial who had arranged to have a witness killed and has thwarted at least two escapes where deputies were referred to as “collateral damage.” He said one of his prosecutors receives automatic alerts whenever defendants charged with domestic violence place calls to a designated geographic area where their victims reside. Howard said his staff can then monitor or review the recorded calls.
Howard acknowledged that his staff also has monitored Atlanta attorney Claud “Tex” McIver’s phone calls and visits since McIver’s bond was revoked and he was charged with murder stemming from the shooting death of his wife last year. The DA said the surveillance of McIver apparently “did play a part” in his staff’s ban from the jail surveillance system. Prosecutors introduced McIver’s conversation with a Fulton County judge whose son is McIver’s godson and another with the judge’s ex-wife figured during a hearing to revoke McIver’s bond last June. McIver later was transferred from the central jail downtown to a jail annex in one of the county’s northern suburbs.
Prosecutors responded to the transfer with an emergency motion accusing the sheriff’s staff of favoritism, although one of Jackson’s staff said it was unrelated to the recorded conversations. Howard insisted that monitoring McIver’s conversations has been “particularly important” because McIver is also charged with three counts of influencing witnesses.
“What we were trying to do is make sure that Tex McIver was monitored in the same fashion as other inmates,” the district attorney explained. The facility to which McIver was transferred did not videotape inmates and their visitors during jail visits, he said. But the sheriff, he added, “had the opinion that we were trying to tell him how to do his job.”