Judge: Fulton County Sheriff must allow DA access to calls, records

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For the second time this summer, a dispute between the Fulton County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney in Fulton County ended in court, with a chief judge Wednesday ordering the Sheriff and staff to comply with a court order to allow access to phone recordings and video recordings of visitations at the jail.

Fulton County Chief Judge Gail S. Tusan in an order issued late Wednesday afternoon directing Sheriff Ted Jackson to reinstate access "immediately" to the jail’s real-time call monitoring service. The ruling stated “no reasonable justification exists for denying the District Attorney's Office access to Securus Technologies' platforms while permitting access to other third-parties” and the Sheriff’s office must “cease from taking any additional actions to limit the District Attorney's Office's access to jail recordings and the Securus Technology portfolio.”

As of Thursday night, the D.A.'s Office said staff still did not have the access to the technology specified in the court order. A spokesperson for the Sheriff's office said they would not comment on the legal matter, and attorneys for the office are reviewing the court order.

According to documents obtained by FOX 5 News, District Attorney Paul Howard argued in a letter dated August 16, addressed to Sheriff Jackson, that access to the Securus Technologies Database used at the jail was a safety issue. Howard initially outlined his argument in a letter sent directly to Sherriff Ted Jackson stressing how the two offices have partnered in the past, not only to collect evidence in upcoming cases, but to thwart ongoing plans of inmates.

Howard said his office was cut off without warning on August 15 prompting a letter to the sheriff the following day.

Howard said not only does the Securus Technologies Database hold all the recorded calls made by inmates from all Fulton County Jail facilities as well as the video visitations, but also has digital notes made by investigators associated with various inmates it dating back two years.

The letter also noted the communication breakdown between the two elected leaders: Howard writes, "I have attempted to reach out to you by telephone but have been unsuccessful." 

Officials cited the system as helping to thwart an escaped attempt by 20-year-old Jeffrey Hazelwood, who was booked into the Fulton County Jail on charges of murder, aggravated assault, and aggravated sexual battery after two teenagers were found dead behind a Roswell grocery store.

This is the second time a judge has intervened between the two offices within the past few months. At the end of June, Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney ruled the sheriff has the discretion to house inmates wherever needed. Howard filed a motion asking a judge to move Tex McIver, who is being held in connection with the shooting death of his wife, back to the main jail after he was moved without warning to the Alpharetta Annex. Howard argued the move gave McIver preferential treatment and allowed McIver more flexibility to make phone calls and receive visitors that were not monitored.

The former chairman of Fulton County John Eaves, who resigned days ago from his post to run for mayor of Atlanta, told FOX 5 that the legal dispute posed a safety issue for victims of crimes by prisoners, and even inmates, and said he did not know the reasons for why the Sheriff instituted the ban in the first place.

"I think this is a wakeup call. We don't want to get to the point where public safety is at risk," Eaves said. "I think they’ll work it out, because public safety is ultimately an issue," he said.