Officer misconduct investigators blocked from Atlanta detention center

The Atlanta Citizen Review Board says it’s been denied access by the Fulton County Sheriff’s office.

A citizen review board that investigates conduct complaints against city of Atlanta police and corrections officers said it’s been blocked from interviewing inmates in the Fulton County jail system — including inmates held in the city’s own detention center, where the county rents beds.

The Atlanta Citizen Review Board was established in 2008 and independently investigates alleged police misconduct by officers in the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Department of Corrections.

But Executive Director Samuel Lee Reid II told Atlanta City Council members on Monday that the Fulton County Sheriff’s office recently decided the board’s investigators are no longer allowed to interview individuals with complaints of inmates in their custody.

“Now for the past 15 years we’ve been interviewing citizens who have complaints against police officers with no issues,” Reid said. “We don’t understand why this has occurred. The issue is those citizens in Fulton County custody are not able to have their complaints pursued.”

Reid said there are currently four individuals in the Atlanta City Detention Center with complaints against Atlanta officers — not Fulton County officers — who Fulton County is refusing to let board investigators interview.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s office has said the board’s investigators must have either a court order from a judge or permission from the individual’s attorney to enter — although many often don’t have legal representation yet.

“We see this as direct opposition to our city’s efforts, the ACRB’s efforts, to hold officers accountable,” Reid said. “We wanted to bring this to you all today because it sets that dangerous path that makes us be in line with some other cities that we don’t want to be in line with.”

The Atlanta Citizen Review Board sent a letter to Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat on May 18 in which they reiterated that they only have the authority to investigate complaints against Atlanta’s sworn officers.

Board Chair Dorthey Hurst wrote that the “current change in the Sheriff’s office’s cooperation with the ACRB is troubling.”

Council member Antonio Lewis asked Reid during the Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee meeting Monday why the relationship would have changed so drastically.

“You’re supposed to be making sure that we hold folks accountable,” Lewis said. “My question to you: if (Fulton County Sheriff’s Office) has been a good faith partner for 15 years, what changed?”

Reid said there’s been no response as to why investigators have suddenly been banned from interviewing individuals with complaints against Atlanta officers, and alluded to further crack down after his presentation to the committee.

“The only thing that has changed this time is that we were seeking to interview individuals who are being held in the Atlanta city jail,” he said. “That’s the only thing that’s changed.”

Labat made an unexpected appearance at City Hall to defend the decision to implement additional requirements for the board’s investigators to see inmates in their custody and said attorney’s have complained about clients being interviewed without their legal representation notified.

“We’ve asked them to contact the individuals that represent them because those individuals are arrested and have rights,” he said. “So what we don’t want to do is interfere with that. And because anything that is said can be held against them and if they have attorneys, we asked like everybody else, contact the attorney first.”

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File