Griffin City Attorney Drew Whalen submits false statement to Attorney General’s Office


SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Griffin City Attorney Drew Whalen submitted a false statement to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office in response to a criminal complaint filed by The GRIP Publisher Sheila Mathews.

Following multiple refusals to release a public record over a period of several months, Mathews in November filed a complaint with the Griffin Police Department, alleging a criminal violation of the Georgia Open Records Act. At that time, Mathews met with Sgt. Jennifer Michel, of the GPD Criminal Investigation Division, to request an investigation of the matter.

Mathews provided copies of two Open Records requests she had submitted and the responses from Griffin Assistant Open Records Clerk Teresa Watson which denied production of the record sought.

Mathews also provided Michel with a separate Open Records request that had been submitted to the city of Griffin by CNN/HLN Producer Kyle Peltz. That request resulted in production of the very document denied to The GRIP.

Michel was also given information regarding an Open Records request that was submitted to the city of Griffin by a second member of the national press – Rachel Aviv – a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine. In response to her request, Aviv also received the record denied to Mathews.

Although Michel was provided with a printed copy of the specific Georgia code section related to criminal violations of the Open Records Act – OCGA 50-18-74 – Michel disputed that fact, stating she did not believe it was a crime, and said she did not think it was something the GPD would investigate.

The following morning, Michel’s incident report was completed and stated in part, “A preliminary review of the material did not disclose venue (who had jurisdiction) nor did the material establish criminal intent nor the basic elements of any crime…The matter appears to be a civil issue, if that, and the issue was referred to the City Attorney for resolution.”

Michel also mischaracterized the document, calling it a document “regarding a Facebook post by Mr. Will Sanders.” The document involved no Facebook post by Sanders, rather Mathews distinctly identified the record as a false document fabricated by Griffin Police Department Chief Mike Yates.

Michel’s report also referenced that Mathews already has possession of the document she claims the city of Griffin has refused to produce. However, Mathews made clear in her complaint that the copy she possesses was not obtained from the city of Griffin. Although the Open Records Act does not require an explanation for the basis of a request, Mathews did explain her need to authenticate the record by verifying its original source – the city of Griffin.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
You can read Sgt. Jennifer Michel’s report here:
GPD report 19009037
____________________________________________________________________________________________
After choosing to disregard the Official Code of Georgia Annotated that identifies criminal violations of the Open Records act, thus refusing to investigate Mathews’ criminal complaint, the Griffin Police Department forwarded the matter to City Attorney Drew Whalen.

In turn, Whalen wrote a letter to Mathews refuting any wrongdoing by city of Griffin officials.

“As I read your letter, the matter you request to be investigated is the purported denial of your initial request to the City of Griffin, pursuant to the Georgia Open Records law, for ‘a document identifying Will Holloway Sanders as the father of former Griffin police officer Matthew Boynton.’ The City’s Open Records Clerk timely responded to your initial request with existing information. At some later time, similar requests were received from two members of the national news media, and the document in question was provided pursuant to these requests. You then made a follow-up request, attaching the document sought, which you obviously obtained from one or both of the other reporters,” Whalen wrote. “I spoke with Ms. (Teresa) Watson, the city’s Open Records Clerk who responded to your initial request; she advised the document you sought was not in the police department’s file at the time of your original request, but was received and placed in the file at some time after your request was completed and before the subsequent requests were received.”

Whalen’s assertions, however, are blatantly false.

Whalen attempted to justify the refusal to produce the document to The GRIP by alleging both that Mathews did not receive the requested document because it was not in the Griffin Police Department’s file when she first sought it, and also that her request was the first received by the city of Griffin, prior to those submitted by Peltz and Aviv.

The timeline of Open Records request submissions makes clear that both of Whalen’s claims are misrepresentations of the facts.

Upon receipt of Whalen’s letter, Mathews submitted a series of Open Records requests seeking records to definitively establish the chain of events.

Three of those requests sought the aforementioned Open Records requests from Peltz and Aviv that resulted in production of the document, as well as Mathew’s initial request to which the city denied production of the document.

All of these records, which were in Watson’s possession and were available to other city officials prior to the Whalen’s letter being forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office, verified the falsity of the city attorney’s claims.

The request from Peltz was submitted May 15, 2019, and was declared by Watson to be “complete and closed,” with all relevant records produced on May 29, 2019.
____________________________________________________________________________________________You can read CNN/HLN Producer Kyle Peltz’s Open Records requests here:
Kyle Peltz ORR Boynton

Kyle Peltz ORR Sanders
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Watson did not provide as specific a record regarding Aviv’s request, instead saying, “ Since you did not specify a date, I included all the requests from Ms. Aviv that were received within a span of a few days that could be construed to be responsive.”

That represents three Open Records requests from Aviv – the first dated June 13, the second dated June 17 and the third dated June 21, 2019.

This correlates with information previously obtained by The GRIP, as Aviv has stated the request that resulted in production of the specific document was submitted June 17, and she received the records June 20, 2019.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
You can read The New Yorker Staff Writer Rachel Aviv’s Open Records requests here:

____________________________________________________________________________________________
That left in question only the timing of Mathews’ first Open Records request, which Watson’s response acknowledged was received July 23. It was originally emailed July 22, but an internal city of Griffin IT glitch delayed its receipt by one day.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
You can read Mathews’ first Open Records request here:
Mathews’ 7.22.19 ORR
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Another series of Open Records requests sought verification of the tracking numbers that identified each request. Assigned internally, those sequential numbers are unique to each Open Records request received by the city of Griffin.

Watson’s responses identified Peltz’s tracking number as 19-00346; Aviv’s as 19-00384; and Mathews’ as 19-00440.

Those ascending numbers correlate with the dates of the three Open Records requests in question, with Peltz’s received by the city of Griffin in May, Aviv’s received in June and Mathews’ received in July.

In Whalen’s letter, he included his views of the law, stating, “The law, as passed, does not prevent you from periodically refiling a request to see if any new documents may be available.”

That is precisely what Mathews had already done, but to no avail, as Watson continued to refuse to produce the document sought.

On Oct. 21, 2019, Mathews submitted to the city of Griffin another Open Records request seeking production of the same document previously refused to her.

“…I wish to obtain a copy of the attached document that was previously produced to Kyle Peltz, CNN or HLN,” Mathews wrote. “This public record was originally requested by The GRIP on July 22, 2019, and was identified as ORA-19-00440.”

Watson’s response dated Oct. 24, stated, “Pursuant to your below ORA request, my original response of July 25, 2019 has not changed. No further records exist; therefore, none are provided…”
____________________________________________________________________________________________
You can read Mathews’ Oct. 21, 2019, Open Records request here:
Mathews’ 10.21.19 ORR
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Whalen concluded his letter by acknowledging there is a provision in the Georgia code for criminal violations of the Open Records Act, but rather than informing the Griffin Police Department of its error, he chose to reproachfully chastise Mathews.

“Lastly, I would point out to you that the City of Griffin, Georgia, its officer and employees, have at all times relevant hereto acted in good faith in responding to Open Records requests filed by you and will vigorously oppose and defend any action, civil or criminal, you may elect to file regarding this matter, including seeking recovery of litigation costs and attorneys’ fees,” Whalen said.

As a final warning to Mathews, Whalen stated, “Please govern yourself accordingly.”

Publisher’s note: After verifying the numerous false representations of fact in Whalen’s letter, Mathews made multiple attempts to contact the city attorney to determine what steps would be taken to correct the false record presented to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, as well as to investigate the criminal complaint Mathews filed in this matter, but Whalen did not respond.

Comments

  1. Nancy Mobley says:

    The “good ole boy” network is still alive and well in Griffin, Ga. The level of secrecy, deceit and corruption is so deep and has endured for so long there may be no hope for this community.

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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: