Fulton elections chief jailed

Fulton elections chief jailed

Fulton County’s elections chief was jailed after his probation for a 2009 DUI was revoked, officials said Wednesday.

Samuel Westmoreland, the county registration and elections director who came under fire recently over errors in his department’s handling of the July primary, was booked into the Fulton County jail on Friday on charges that he was driving under the influence of alcohol, according to jail records.

Westmoreland’s probation is being revoked, Fulton County State Court officials said on Wednesday.

Alpharetta police spokesman George Gordon confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Westmoreland was in jail, and said he is scheduled to be released Sept. 24.

It was unclear late Wednesday if Westmoreland was arrested on new DUI charges or if he violated his probation in some other manner.

When reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon, Judicial Correction Services Inc., the agency managing Westmoreland’s probation, refused to discuss why the Alpharetta attorney is back in jail, citing confidentiality concerns.

Westmoreland, 43, was arrested the night of Dec. 23, 2009 in Alpharetta after failing a sobriety test, and was charged with DUI, failure to maintain lanes and driving with an expired tag, according to police reports.

Before he was arrested, the officer noted Westmoreland’s slow and deliberate movement and asked whether he had taken any medication. Westmoreland said “no” at first. But, while swaying back and forth on his feet with dilated pupils and a racing pulse, he told the officer when asked a second time that he had taken the pain reliever Lortab and anti-anxiety medicine Xanax two days prior to the traffic stop, police said.

Blood samples taken during the investigation and turned over to the GBI Crime Lab showed positive for the psychoactive sedative drugs benzodiazepines, according to the lab results obtained by the AJC.

Westmoreland pleaded no contest last year and was sentenced to 12 months on probation, 40 hours of community service and $800 in fines and fees.

A member of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections since 2004, and a two-time board chair, Westmoreland was appointed interim elections director in July 2011, and permanently took over the position in March.

His management of the department has garnered criticism, and his jail stint comes amid worries that his department won’t be capable of handling the November presidential election without foul-ups like the ones that happened in July.

At least one Fulton County commissioner, after learning of the arrest, is calling for Westmoreland to be fired.

The Secretary of State’s office currently has five open investigations involving Fulton elections, spokesman Jared Thomas has said, declining to elaborate.

In June, state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) assailed Westmoreland for mailing 2,400 letters to registered voters telling them that unless their homes exist, they would be erased from the rolls.

Westmoreland was trying to clear out voters whose addresses were demolished public housing buildings, but federal law forbids systematic purges within 90 days of a federal election. Westmoreland backed off, saying he only started the process because the Secretary of State’s office threatened to take action against the county.

Then, in the July primary, the elections department assigned 690 voters in Sandy Springs and southeast Atlanta to the wrong state Senate and state House races. It also missed the deadline to certify election results by an hour and a half, leaving the county subject to fines by the state Election Board.

A few weeks later, the Fulton County Commission admonished Westmoreland for giving the county yet another black eye. Commissioners said they feared becoming a laughingstock if a debacle occurred in November.

Westmoreland was in jail Wednesday when the department gave an update to the commission, with Registration Chief Sharon Mitchell and Board of Elections Vice Chairman Leslie Small standing in for him.

Commissioner Bill Edwards told them the public is weary of their department, and their presentation didn’t give him confidence that they could handle the November election.

Edwards told the AJC later that he was concerned enough when Westmoreland was running the department, and now he’s even more worried.

“He needs to be gone,” Edwards said. “It just goes to your character.”

It is unclear how the probation revocation will affect Westmoreland’s position. Elections board Chairman Roderick Edmond said there will be a specially called meeting Friday or Monday, and “we’re going to take immediate action.”

Edmond said Mitchell will lead the department during Westmoreland’s absence, and consultants are being sought to help with November. He said he’s confident the department can manage the election without problems.

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