YSL Trial: Courtroom deputy arrested days after attorney’s laptop seized

Judge signs order returning defense lawyer’s computer
Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A deputy who’d been working in the courtroom where the high-profile Young Slime Life gang case is taking place was arrested Friday, two days after authorities seized a defense attorney’s laptop during jury selection.

Fulton County Deputy Akeiba Stanley is accused of communicating with defendant Christian Eppinger via Instagram, court records show. Warrants allege Stanley talked with Eppinger both inside and outside of court, and that she knew he had a contraband cellphone in the jail.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the 31-year-old deputy “fostered an inappropriate relationship” with Eppinger by visiting his cell and allegedly conspiring with one of his relatives to deliver prohibited items.

Stanley is charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, reckless conduct and violating her oath of office. During her first appearance hearing Saturday morning, Stanley’s bond was set to $1,000,000, court documents show.

It’s unclear if the deputy’s charges stem from the search of attorney Eric Johnson’s computer. Johnson is Eppinger’s lawyer.

“Her reckless actions endangered the safety of citizens, staff and employees at the Fulton County courthouse and put other inmates in jeopardy,” Fulton Sheriff “Pat” Labat said of his deputy’s arrest. Stanley was given a $1 million bond at her first appearance hearing.

The judge presiding over the sprawling gang case signed an order Friday instructing law enforcement not to search Johnson’s seized laptop and to return it to him immediately.

In the temporary restraining order, Chief Judge Ural Glanville also said the defense attorney should keep possession of his computer pending a hearing next week.

Johnson’s laptop was taken in the middle of jury selection Wednesday by a group of deputies who handed him a signed search warrant. The affidavit alleges Eppinger had been seen using his lawyer’s computer to log onto Instagram during court.

In court filings, defense lawyers said a Fulton County magistrate judge should never have signed a warrant allowing deputies to seize an attorney’s computer in the first place.

Motions filed by Johnson and others demanded the laptop be given back. The attorneys contended, among other things, that the magistrate judge who signed the search warrant was not told the computer belonged to a lawyer and contained privileged attorney-client information.

In their emergency motion filed Thursday evening, a group of defense attorneys from the YSL case said there are special procedures to seizing an attorney’s belongings that weren’t followed.

“Importantly, only a Superior Court judge can issue the search warrant,” the motion said. “Thus, on the face of this search warrant, this warrant is void and the computer must not be searched and must be returned to Attorney Johnson.”

Additionally, state law specifies that no warrant shall be issued for any evidence in the possession of an attorney who is not a criminal suspect unless there is “probable cause to believe that documentary evidence will be destroyed or secreted in the event a search warrant is not issued,” they wrote.

The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a supporting brief Friday morning demanding that Johnson’s laptop be returned and that any information or evidence obtained during the search be suppressed.

They said no special master was appointed to accompany those serving the warrant and no hearing was held to determine which items on the computer were privileged.

“The search warrant and its service are therefore defective, and the seizure, and any subsequent search, of the laptop is illegal,” the filing said.

Glanville’s order was viewed as a win by some defense attorneys who were appalled that authorities were even allowed seize Johnson’s laptop.

“When law enforcement seeks to seize the property of an attorney which potentially contains privileged information, certain rules need to be followed,” said attorney Max Schardt, who represents defendant Shannon Stillwell. “This was clearly not done in this case.”

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.