LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - As deputies helped hand out hundreds of free book bags to school children over the weekend, Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor hoped an ugly legal dispute was finally coming to an end.
"Look," Taylor said as he scanned a line of excited families waiting at Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville. "This is what’s got me excited. I think we got close to 2,000 book bags that we’re going to be able to give out."
A day full of fun, all courtesy of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office and two dozen sponsors who put up the money.
"Mostly it’s come from local businessmen, bonding companies," explained Taylor.
Yes, bonding companies, the kind that offenders pay to help them post bail so they can get of jail.
But supporters of the book bag initiative included only the four bonding companies that Taylor allowed to remain in business when he took over in January.
He forced all the others to close over concerns of financial health … or trust.
Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor (R) said it's the first time the sheriff's office has staged a book bag giveaway.
But critics saw it a different way.
"He’s a liar," argued attorney Michael Bowers when FOX 5 talked to him in May. "Has proven to be a liar."
Bowers represents three of the bonding companies Taylor kicked out in January, including Anytime Bonding.
That’s the one Taylor visited when he was planning his campaign for sheriff in 2019, the one where he said this to the office manager that was recorded on a security camera:
"If folks don’t support me, I’m not going to let them bond here. I mean, I’m just not going to do it."
But Anytime supported Taylor’s opponent.
Attorney Michael Bowers calls Sheriff Taylor a liar. Bowers represents the three bonding companies Taylor kicked out after taking office in January.
In January, Taylor refused to renew Anytime’s license, saying he couldn’t trust the company’s co-owner Scott Hall because Hall gave the video to the GBI which started an investigation.
The sheriff explained to us the video was actually him asking Anytime to support his planned community initiatives, like book bag giveaways.
"So if I came to you and said I need help for book bags for needy kids out here, is that something you would be willing to participate in?" Taylor says he remembered saying. "So when I say support, those are the things that I talk about."
He denied that the word support meant giving money to his campaign.
"No. I wasn’t asking for money. I never went into any bonding company asking for money," said Taylor.
Anytime Bonding did not save a recording of the entire conversation that day, but the office manager testified in court Taylor said nothing about book bags or social programs.
Bowers said when he filed his lawsuit against Taylor earlier this year, Gwinnett County could provide no proof of any community initiatives.
"We filed an open records request with the sheriff’s office and said ‘Give us all the records about all your social programs,’" Bowers said. "You know how many records we got back? Zero. Because there is no such thing. It was a lie."
The FOX 5 I-Team asked Taylor if he was concerned critics would say his event over the weekend was done only to justify his initial explanation for the Anytime Bonding video.
"No. No," he insisted. "This is something we had talked about from Day One."
There’s no mention of community initiatives like book bag giveaways on Taylor’s campaign website.
Volunteers at the Book Bag Giveway included members of Buford High School's state championship football team.
Last month, the sheriff settled the lawsuit with Anytime Bonding, allowing them to stay in business but under a different name — ABC Bonding — and with co-owner Scott Hall no longer associated with the company.
No one from ABC Bonding would comment on the settlement.
"It’s not a personal issue, OK?" said Taylor. "It’s an issue that we felt like as far as our bond reform, we needed to address that issue."
The sheriff still has to deal with lawsuits filed by two other bonding companies, not to mention that lingering GBI probe.
For the children who got free book bags, it’s the start of a fresh, clean year.
For the new Gwinnett County sheriff, not just yet.
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