Citizens group, Clayton DA, others clash over access to grand juries

They say they’re concerned citizens determined to root out government corruption. Others think they’re loose canons — dangerous enough to prompt one metro Atlanta government official to secure restraining orders and get state authorities involved.

Courts in Henry and Bartow counties recently ordered former Justice of the Peace Paul Nally of Cartersville and Carl Swensson, founder of the Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee, to stay away from Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.

“I’m concerned about my safety,” Lawson said. “I’m just asking them to stay the heck away from me. I don’t want them near me,” Lawson said.

Lawson isn’t the only government official in metro Atlanta who has tangled with Nally and Swensson. Officials in Henry, Bartow and Cobb also have dealt with the pair’s unusual efforts to tackle what they see as local government corruption.

Though they live 70 miles apart, Swensson and Nally have become allies. They meet regularly at Nally’s Bartow home to discuss and videotape their shared philosophy. The pair met at a speech Nally gave about the power of grand juries and the right of individuals to have direct access to them.

In videos they post on YouTube, they talk about Lawson and accuse her of treason and violating her oath.

Lawson said the two men threatened her on the videos and through the mail. On one of the videos about Lawson, Nally said judges, lawyers and police officers who abused their offices “should be brought to the wall at sunrise and I would volunteer to squeeze the trigger.”

Consequently, Nally must stay 500 yards from Lawson and Swensson must remain 200 yards away. In the meantime the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case. Once the GBI is finished, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia will decide if charges will be filed.

“The difficulty of these types of cases is the sovereign citizen people are very astute about the language that they use in their communications,” GBI director Vernon Keenan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They’re very educated in how far they can push issues without crossing over to criminal conduct. That’s what we’re dealing with. It’s not direct threats. It’s implied threats and intimidation.”

In an interview with The AJC, Swensson accused Lawson of intimidating him and others in the 15-member group, which he says is not associated with the Sovereign Citizens movement.

The flap centers around the group’s efforts to give a Clayton County grand jury evidence of alleged government wrongdoing.

“(Lawson has) gone to great extremes to prevent us from getting in front of the grand jury,” Swensson said. “We have never taken the position that we have the right to barge in on a grand jury. We just want to get the information we’ve collected into the hands of the grand jury bailiff… She doesn’t want any information going to the grand jury that she first has not reviewed. There is no law giving her that authority.”

Swensson says his group has uncovered about a half-dozen instances of governmental wrongdoing.

In June, Nally and Swensson asked a baliff to give grand jurors a sealed envelopes with their information. There was a confrontation with Lawson at the courthouse and the men were escorted out.

At a July 5 Clayton commission meeting, the pair demanded that Lawson and three commissioners — Michael Edmondson, Gail Hambrick and Shana Rooks — be arrested for various alleged crimes. Treason was among the charges against Lawson, based they said on her refusal to allow the grand jury access to their information.

Commission Michael Edmondson declined to discuss the matter except to say that “Clayton County police department and (Clayton police) Chief (Michael) Register take any threats seriously.” Efforts to reach Hambrick and Rooks were unsuccessful.

There have been encounters with the group in other counties:

• The district attorney for Bartow County said Nally tried to appear before the grand jury there several times. “It has got to the point where our judges have recused themselves from hearing the cases,” said District Attorney Rosemary Greene. Nally has taken county officials, including grand jurors, to federal court four times since 2002. pushing to tell the Bartow Grand jury about alleged corruption in that county.

• Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said he tried to indict Nally, a retired department of transportation employee, for allegedly threatening a Superior Court judge but the grand jury didn’t think there was enough evidence to support a charge.

• Swensson’s Henry County group, the Patrick Henry Board of Review, tried to have Henry County commissioners arrested for allegedly being part of “shadow companies” created so elected officials can participate in activities they’re generally restricted from doing. Patrick Henry is the Henry County version of the Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee. and includes the same members.

Henry Commission Chairman Tommy Smith said Swensson and his group also have tried to gain direct access to its grand jury.

“They’re living in the past,” Smith said. “When’s the last time you heard of someone making a citizen’s arrest?”

Swensson said his group is taking its issues to the public because “the DA and police department and sheriff departments in Clayton and Henry aren’t investigating public corruption. “That’s why we do what we do in front of county commissioners,” he said.