Convicted and jailed for attempted extortion and perjury, suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was allowed to keep his cellphone and to wear his street clothes while he was held initially in a special section of the jail, privileges not extended to other inmates.
According to video obtained by Channel 2 Action News, the just-convicted Ellis is seen walking into an empty cell block with a backpack, supposedly containing clothes. The video also shows him wearing blue pajamas and other clothes that were not issued by the jail. The video captured Ellis exercising and occasionally wandering out an open door to his cell block.
Ellis was moved a few days later to the jail’s medical unit on another floor. In that video, Ellis is wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.
A spokeswoman for DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann confirmed Ellis was allowed to have his cell phone “for a time.” She asked that any follow up questions be submitted via email. The Sheriff’s Office has not yet responded to additional questions.
As a rule, jails and prison do not allow inmates to have cell phones because of the possibility that they would continue criminal activities while locked up or that they will intimidate witnesses. Georgia law, however, gives “wardens and superintendents” discretion. Inmates also are usually immediately issued jail uniforms as there could be disputes among inmates over clothing.
“Nothing in that video is illegal,” said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.
Sheriffs are responsible “for the care and custody of inmates” and they have discretion as to how to “manage inmates.”
Norris said, “it’s not unusual to take extraordinary steps to protect inmates” in high-profile cases like Ellis’
Ellis was convicted July 1 of attempting to extort campaign contributions from a county vendor and for lying to a special purpose grand jury about his role in county contracting. This was his second trial on such charges because a jury last year could not reach a verdict so it ended in a mistrial. The first trial last year and the second one this year received significant media coverage.
Ellis was sentenced to 18 months in jail to be followed by 3 1/2 years probation. He was transferred to the state prison system within hours of his sentencing on July 8. He is at Coastal State Prison near Savannah.
Earlier this year, 10 former Atlanta public school educators and administrators were convicted on April 1 of racketeering. In the two weeks between their convictions and their sentencings they were kept separate from other Fulton County Jail inmates, some of whom were violent. But the former educators were not allowed to have their cell phones nor were they allowed to wear street clothes.
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