GPD withholds records in case alleging judicial misconduct against local judge


SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The city of Griffin is again refusing to release public records to The GRIP, this time withholding records associated with an investigation of alleged judicial misconduct involving Spalding County Magistrate Judge Don Taliaferro.

The alleged misconduct was first reported to the Griffin Police Department on June 14, 2018, when Toni Presley accused Taliaferro of improper conduct involving her daughter, Melissa Roundtree.

After first initiating an internal investigation, GPD Chief Mike Yates on June 22, 2018, spoke by telephone with Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chris DeMarco, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 2 Office, requesting that agency’s assistance in the matter.

The following week, on the morning of June 26, 2018, DeMarco assigned Agent Jeff Hatchett to conduct a “preliminary review to determine if evidence exists that a crime has been committed or if circumstances warrant an in-depth investigation into the matter.”

Later in the morning of the 26th, Hatchett met at police headquarters with Yates, Sgt. John Hayes, Sgt. Jennifer Michel, Sgt. Kaylen Krueger and Officer Josh Jordan.

In his investigative summary in which he recounted the circumstances of this meeting, Hatchett reported that Yates described the details of the complaint, and provided information related to the GPD investigation.

Hatchett was also told GPD investigators had reported the allegation to Spalding County Chief Magistrate Judge Rita Cavanaugh and the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).

The Griffin Police Department turned over to Hatchett certain records related to its investigation including surveillance photographs taken of Taliaferro and Melissa Roundtree and phone records.

It is those surveillance photographs that the GPD now refused to produce pursuant to an Open Records request submitted by The GRIP Publisher Sheila Mathews.

The Open Records Act (ORA) does allow for certain records to be exempt from release, but the city of Griffin failed to respond to Mathews’ Open Records request within the requisite time frame specified in Georgia code, and Mathews maintains there is no legal basis for refusing to release the requested photographs..

Her initial request was emailed to the city of Griffin Open Records portal at 11:28 a.m. Jan. 14. The city of Griffin was required to respond within three business days, which was Jan. 17, but no response was made until Jan. 21, the following week.

The city’s initial response was not only outside the mandatory time frame, but was non-responsive to the request itself.

City of Griffin Open Records Clerk Teresa Watson acknowledged the GBI criminal investigation had been closed while stating it remained “active” with the JQC.

Rather than respond the Mathews’ Open Records request seeking specific records of the Griffin Police Department, Watson provided the address and phone number of the JQC and asked, “Would you like to contact the JQC directly…?”

Mathews informed Watson that no JQC records were being sought, only those of the GPD, and she cited Georgia code, specifically § 50-18-72 (a) (4), which specifies that law enforcement records such as those she requested are only exempt from release in any “pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity…provided however, that an investigation or prosecution shall no longer be deemed to be pending when all direct litigation involving such investigation and prosecution has become final or otherwise terminated…”

“The photographs I requested are not part of an active and ongoing criminal investigation by either the Griffin Police Department or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and it has been determined there will be no prosecution associated with any such investigation conducted by either agency, ergo, the records I seek are subject to production under the Georgia Open Records Act,” Mathews wrote on Jan. 21. “My request was submitted at 11:28 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019. The city did not respond within the three-day window required by the ORA, so the production of records has already been unnecessarily delayed. I respectfully request the records be produced before the close of business today.”

Watson soon replied, initially indicating the records would be forthcoming, but claimed production may be delayed due to the uncertainty of where the photos – evidence in the criminal investigation of Judge Taliaferro – were located within the Police Department.

“Diane Martin is assisting me with trying to locate the public records you seek that were related to a specific criminal investigatory action of the Griffin PD when the case was turned over to the GBI. Chief Yates advises if we actually have any photographs, a comprehensive hand search for them would be required to locate the unlabeled photos, as we have no mechanized method to do so,” Watson stated. “However, I am hopeful that there may be a file that documented what was provided to the GBI and that it may contain such photos. We are diligently trying to fulfill this request but will not be able to do so by close of business today. The Chief is out of the office until tomorrow, and I should be able to relay more information at that time.”

Mathews responded, “As the publication of an article is being delayed, I do request production of these photographs by 11 a.m. tomorrow.”

However, rather than honoring her previous claim that she and Martin were “working diligently” to produce the photographs, upon GPD Chief Mike Yates return to his office the following day, Jan. 22, Watson contradicted her Jan. 21 statement and said the city of Griffin would not produce the public records.

Instead, Watson claimed that although the criminal investigation has been closed, the Police Department’s records are exempt from release because the matter remains “active” with the JQC, which is a regulatory agency that has no bearing on the GPD or GBI investigation.

Watson also claimed a new, previously unclaimed basis of exemption that allows law enforcement records to be withheld “to the extent that production of such records is reasonably likely to disclose the identity of a confidential source, disclose confidential investigative or prosecution material which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or persons, or disclose the existence of a confidential surveillance or investigation.”
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Open Records correspondence between Mathews and Watson can be reviewed here:
ORR for Taliaferro surveillance photographs
____________________________________________________________________________________________

It is unclear how any of those exemptions would apply to Mathews’ Open Records request as the GPD and GBI investigations are closed; the two women involved in the case – Toni Presley and Melissa Roundtree – have already been publicly identified by the GBI; the investigative records sought are not confidential in nature and would not endanger anyone; and the photographs are unrelated to any ongoing confidential surveillance or investigation.

Furthermore, while the Griffin Police Department refuses to release its investigative records, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has released its criminal investigative case file pertaining to the allegations lodged against Taliaferro.

The information provided to the GPD by Toni Presley on June 14, 2018, led directly to an investigation, including the surveillance, of a sitting Spalding County judge.

A GBI investigative summary dated June 27, 2018, and attributed to ASAC DeMarco states in part, “Chief Yates advised essentially the following: The police department had received a complaint about a Magistrate Court Judge (name not provided at that time) allegedly soliciting female defendants for sex. Chief Yates stated that preliminary information from his investigators assigned the complaint have information based on more than hearsay.”

That GBI record also indicated that at that time, the GPD was shrouding its investigation.

“Before concluding the conversation, Chief Yates indicated that only he and his investigators assigned the complaint know of this allegation,” DeMarco noted in his summary.

A video recording taped in a GPD interrogation room indicates Presley’s original statement to investigators was considered a formal report.

The recording shows former Griffin Police Officer Travis Wick read aloud the criminal code section related to false statements and writings, which was printed on an internal GPD report form. After Presley verbalized that she understood that law, Wick then required Presley sign and date the document and print her name. Wick then wrote on that document before passing it to Officer Dexter McCune, who did likewise.

Repeated attempts to obtain public records that are not exempt from release even if a case is active and ongoing, such as an incident report, have all been rebuffed.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Open Records requests that resulted in the Griffin Police Department’s denial of the existence of an incident report or case number can be reviewed here:
ORR re Incident Report Taliaferro
ORR re Case Number Taliaferro
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Not only does the GPD now claim there is no incident report or similar record associated with this case, the agency also denies the existence of even a case number.

Publisher’s note: A formal complaint alleging a violation of Georgia’s Open Records Act is being submitted to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office today.

Additional articles related to the allegations of judicial misconduct filed against Magistrate Judge Don Taliaferro and the resulting investigations are forthcoming.

Comments

  1. So much for freedom and justice in the south.

  2. Paul Nally says:

    Why not petition your Grand Jury to initiate its own investigation of the matter since all citizens have the right to stand in the place of a state’s prosecutor … no records or witnesses are exempt from their inquisition. Listen in to wjbbradio.com from 11 to 1 today and call in if you’d like.
    Paul

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: