Dix says there will be no investigation of Beam, narcotics tracker operation

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix has weighed in on a proffer agreement that was part of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation of David Gibson.

The GBI refused to release those specific records, but The GRIP obtained the proffer through the email account of former Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard. Larkin Lee, Gibson’s criminal defense attorney, said the proffer was solicited by the state, referred to “possible illegal activity in the Narcotics Division of the Sheriff’s Department, including unlawful seizure of property and misuse of seized property by individual agents; possible evidence tampering and manipulation of evidence by individuals in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Sheriff’s Department; possible accounting and financial irregularities within the Sheriff’s Department; and possible violations in regard to GCIC certifications, procedures and/or misuse.”

Subsequent emails between Ballard and GBI Special Agent Jared Coleman raised questions about possible criminal activity at the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office.

When Ballard asked Coleman if his investigation had led him to independently suspect the crimes contained within the proffer, the GBI agent stated, “Nothing in this investigation has led to any of that. The closest thing that I personally have knowledge of is a rumor that the Narcotics unit had placed a tracker on a vehicle without an order to do so, but that was from a personal contact and happened 4-plus years ago if I recall correctly. The only other criminal activity we’ve found is possible malfeasance in office on part of Sheriff Beam by not doing anything after multiple confirmed reports on Gibson’s activity. Other than that, anything he (Gibson) would have to offer would simply be his word at this point.”

Current Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix was interviewed to get his take on whether the tracker operation referenced by Coleman – on which The GRIP published a series of investigative articles in late 2015, and the conduct of former Sheriff Wendell Beam, were potentially criminal in nature.

Asked if he would perceive Coleman’s email statement to mean the tracker operation was potentially illegal, Dix replied, “When he says other, the word other appears to mean that the action before that word was possibly criminal in nature is what it sounds like, is the way that I kind of interpret it.”

Dix said he recalls the series of articles on the tracker operation, and remember discrepancies regarding whether Special Operations Unit agents had the owner’s permission to place the tracker on the vehicle or whether it was placed covertly.

“But it seems to me like if – and I’m not playing Monday morning quarterback here – but it seems to me like something as important as that, if it was (that) permission to do that was given, it seems like there would have been a consent to place the tracker on the vehicle, because if there was something criminal that came out of it, then I think one of the defenses would be – for the person that was arrested would be that the tracker was illegally placed on the vehicle. And without an order signed by a judge to do so, it seems like you would have to have a consent form signed to negate that part of the defense. It just seems like that would be common sense,” Dix said. “I mean, you can give me verbal consent to search your car. If it’s recorded on video, recorded on audio, that’s fine – you can hear it and you can see it – but without those things, then I’ll probably going to have you sign a consent form, because your claim is going to be that you were coerced, or you didn’t give consent. Now, I hope I’m not reading too much into that, but it seems like if they didn’t have an order, there should have at least been a consent signed.”

He said questions still remain regarding that operation.

“One of the questions that I would ask – again, thinking of the defense – can you even put a tracker on a car without the person in actual physical control of the car even knowing about it?” he said. “There’s a lot of interesting questions – search and seizure wise, Fourth Amendment wise – that come up.”

At the time those investigative articles were being published, The GRIP submitted a separate Open Record request to identify the SCSO personnel responsible for the previous untruthful Open Record responses provided on this matter.

The answer given was Agent John Corley and Agent Howie Spitzer, both of whom continue to be employed by the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office.

The GRIP told Dix, “The stories kept changing, but only after I kept calling out the responses provided previously. Beam did not investigate this. Instead, he opted to request a GBI investigation to identify my CI. I know that Howie Spitzer and John Corley are still employed by you…Do you believe that this is a non-issue? You said that it does raise some questions.”

Dix responded, “It does. I think that if the person who is the District Attorney made the decision not to do anything with it back then, then he probably had more information on it than I have, at least I would hope he had more information.”

He said that hope coupled with his belief that some SCSO employees were “being directed to do things; were afraid for their jobs; they were pressured,” means “that a lot of this stuff here is questionable.”

Dix said he also takes into consideration Corley and Spitzer’s job performance since he took office, and discussed how such a situation would be handled under his administration.

“I think a lot of it is people talking about things without investigating things. I think that a lot of is the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, and not being involved in it. As for Spitzer and Corley right now, based on the findings of the District Attorney and based on their job performance since I came into office, I have no reason to doubt their credibility now. I can’t speak for what they were going through, what they were told to do under the leadership then, but I can tell you now that if an issue like this came up, the GBI would be called in immediately, the officers involved would be placed on administrative leave, an investigation would be done and it would be done swiftly – completely open, completely transparent, no hiding,” Dix said. “I had a former chief of mine made the comment one time that no matter how ugly it is, tell the truth because you can work a miracle with the truth, but you can’t do anything with a lie. Lies just get worse and worse and worse.”

As for the possibility that Beam’s failure to respond to repeated reports of Gibson’s civil and criminal wrongdoing, Dix acknowledged many problems were evident under the former SCSO administration.

“I think that there was some misdirection. I think that there was some – I’m trying to think of a way to say it without being really blunt – but I think that what we have found over the past eleven months is a pattern of that type of behavior that was accepted in this agency. I think, again, that there was a lot of the left hand not knowing what the right had was doing, and a lack of oversight in a lot of areas,” he said.

However, he believes the overall culture of the Sheriff’s Office has been revamped in a positive direction.

“I am confident so much in what we’re doing now that we have opened up our doors here to the GBI to come and go any time they want to. They work closely with our narcotics unit now. They actually work some out of our building some now. That’s how confident I am in the fact that we have moved past the stuff,” he said. “And the thing with Mr. Gibson making these allegations, prior to me coming into office – we’re not talking about my folks; we’re talking about prior to that – if he knew about those things and he failed to act on those things, those are more counts of him being in violation of his oath of office. Those are not bargaining chips. It’s the difference between right and wrong, and if you know these things are wrong while you’re here and you fail to act on it, you’re in violation of your oath of office.”

Dix also reflected on what he perceived as a shift in The GRIP’s reporting of Gibson and the Sheriff’s Office.

“At one point, the story got away from David Gibson and it got into being about lies or misdirections. I think that may be where we’re at now and trying to turn the corner, because as you know, there were things we found here when we came in that were very questionable – trash bags full of shredded documents, stuff like off computers. A lot of that was stuff that we had to go back and find documentation of and bring it back, and made the decision – and it was my decision – that with what this agency had been through in the past two years, and the way it was not allowed to heal because things kept coming and kept coming, I made the decision that we’d document those things – make mental notes of it – and that we were going to not go forward with any investigation or prosecution,” he said. “We wanted this agency to heal. We wanted to start with a clean slate. And see, that’s kind of a misnomer – a clean slate – because you can’t start over with a clean slate. Once you write on a slate board with chalk, you never get it clean. There’s always dust in the corners, and that’s what we were finding here – dust in the corners. So, I made the decision that we would just move on with it. There were things we found here that were absolutely wrong. You’ve seen the condition of the jail – the way that’s run down – things that we had to fix, that we had to go through and start a lot from ground zero and move up…..I think it was a pattern and I think that it was a practice. Whether a lot of it was intentional or not – I know the shredding of documents and all that stuff was intentional – but a lot of it, I don’t know if it was intentional or if it was shrugging your shoulders and turning your head. I think we’ve come a long way from where we were and we’re going to keep heading on that path and move away from the past and into the future.”

Dix also believes many of the problems related to the prior administration were resolved by the resignations of some former personnel.

“There were things that were found here, let me put it to you this way – there were some people that resigned from here that once when we came into office, it became evident why they resigned – because they knew what we were going to find when we came into this building. One of them even moved out of state to get away,” he said. “It was a time to heal. It’s a time to start again and I think if we would have went after some of those things, some of them may have been criminal, some of it was bad management. Some of the decisions that were made, I don’t want to say they were unethical, but they were not very well thought out or planned, and some of it was just almost childish. I’ve never spoken about that because I wanted to give the previous administration an opportunity to move on without digging up bones. I think you got lied to by people who are no longer here. I think that you were misdirected by people who are no longer here. I think that’s one of the reasons why, when I came into office, I saw 50 something industrial sized trash bags filled with shredded documents and computers that had been scrubbed.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: