Ex-Buford schools superintendent denies making racist rant

Former Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby. (Buford City Schools)
Former Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby. (Buford City Schools)

Credit: Buford City Schools

Credit: Buford City Schools

Yes, it does sound like me. Except it isn’t me.

That's former Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby's response to allegations he made vile, racist remarks that were captured on digital recordings. Revelations of the recordings sent the city school system into turmoil as protesters packed board meetings and called for change. Although Hamby never publicly responded to the accusations, he addressed them during a pretrial deposition recently filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

Hamby, who resigned after the recordings were made public, denies saying what's been attributed to him.

“It sounds like my voice but I don’t recall ever saying anything like that, ever,” Hamby testified. “It could be anybody’s voice with today’s technology. (It) sounded like multiple recordings and sounds like they’re spliced.”

» RELATED: Buford school district increases efforts for diversity, inclusion

Hamby (whose first name is pronounced "GUY") addressed the accusations during an Oct. 3 deposition for a race discrimination lawsuit filed against him and the school system. The suit is being pursued by Mary Ingram, an African-American paraprofessional who was fired from her job in June 2017.

Hamby's was one of 14 depositions made public in federal court by the school system's attorneys in a motion to dismiss the case before it goes to trial. The hundreds of pages of transcripts offer starkly conflicting views of Hamby's temperament during his tenure as superintendent, a position in which he was paid $308,000 a year.

The transcripts raise many questions. Still unanswered is where the recordings came from. According to testimony, they were mailed to Ingram before she filed suit. But no one who has testified so far named the person who made the recordings or who sent them to Ingram.

Buford native Mary Ingram, who worked as a paraprofessional, filed suit against the Buford school system in June 2018. She contends former superintendent Geye Hamby retaliated against her because she questioned the school board why the color gold — representing the city’s black school district before the system was integrated in 1969 — wasn’t included in the district’s green and white emblem.Hamby resigned in August 2018, just days after the AJC published a story about the recordings. Buford then formed a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, comprised of parents, district employees and community members. An interim superintendent replaced Hamby until July 2019, when the school board hired Robert Downs as its new leader.
Buford native Mary Ingram, who worked as a paraprofessional, filed suit against the Buford school system in June 2018. She contends former superintendent Geye Hamby retaliated against her because she questioned the school board why the color gold — representing the city’s black school district before the system was integrated in 1969 — wasn’t included in the district’s green and white emblem.Hamby resigned in August 2018, just days after the AJC published a story about the recordings. Buford then formed a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, comprised of parents, district employees and community members. An interim superintendent replaced Hamby until July 2019, when the school board hired Robert Downs as its new leader.

“This lawsuit is organized around a single item of hearsay that lacks foundation and cannot be authenticated,” said the motion filed by the school board’s attorneys. “Ms. Ingram claims to have received from the heavens, as it were, an audio recording of (Hamby) using racial slurs, and, on this sole basis, asserts that everything that happened to her and her employment must have been due to her race.”

Ed Buckley, one of Ingram’s attorneys, said the community can draw its own conclusions when her lawyers files their response to the school board’s motion.

“The defendants’ refusal to acknowledge the obvious is disappointing but not surprising,” he said. “The truth hurts the defendants and their denial of the truth hurts the Buford community.”

Ingram’s lawsuit contained two recorded conversations in which a person can be heard using highly incendiary and racist language when complaining about African-American temporary workers at a construction site.

That person, identified as Hamby in Ingram’s lawsuit, said, “(Expletive) that (n-word). I’ll kill these (expletive) – shoot that (expletive) if they’d let me. All right. Well, check out what’s going on with all these (n-word) out here.”

During the deposition, taken Oct. 3, Hamby was asked if he’d ever used the n-word.

“I may have used it before, for sure,” he said.

University of Montana professor Al Yonovitz, a forensic speech expert. (University of Montana)
University of Montana professor Al Yonovitz, a forensic speech expert. (University of Montana)

Although he repeatedly acknowledged that the voice on the recordings sounded like his, he insisted he never made the racist rants. For that reason, he said, “I deny that’s a recording of my voice.”

Hamby was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 22, 2018, the day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first published the story about the lawsuit's allegations.

He resigned two days later in a terse letter to the school board.

"My sincere apologies for any actions that may have created adversity for this community and the Buford School District," he wrote. The district now has a new superintendent, and a new Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council formed to help the school community come together after the controversy raged in the small Gwinnett County town.

In his deposition, Hamby said he stepped down because of media attention following the allegations, not the recordings themselves.

“I’m not apologizing,” he said, when asked about his resignation letter. “I’m trying to leave. It’s what we do in this culture.”

The five-member school board, in a statement issued days after Hamby’s resignation, acted as if it was his voice on the recordings.

“His language in no way reflects the sentiments of the board of education or school district,” the statement said.

School board chairman Phillip Beard was among those signing off on the statement. In an Aug. 30, 2018, interview with the AJC, Beard acknowledged his voice was on one of the recordings as well.

Buford City School Board Chairman Phillip Beard during an August 2018 interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (HYOSUB SHIN/hshin@ajc.com)
Buford City School Board Chairman Phillip Beard during an August 2018 interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (HYOSUB SHIN/hshin@ajc.com)

Beard said he believed the recorded conversations occurred in the fall of 2016 at a construction site for the Buford Arena.

“It’s Hamby for sure,” Beard, who also chairs the city commission, told the AJC in 2018. “We know that. We know the setting. We know my voice is on the tape.”

In the recording Beard is referring to, much of the talk is about black workers who are sitting around the construction site and not working. That appeared to anger the person identified as Hamby.

“Don’t send us a deadbeat (n-word) from a temp service,” the person said.

“Well, (expletive), they said they’s from a temp service, so I guess, I mean, you got, I mean, have you got more of these big (n-word) than the ones from the temp service?” the person said to be Hamby asked.

“There’s some who’s inside that are working,” replied the man identified as Beard. Moments later, he said, “They’s a waitin’ on a fork lift.”

In the AJC interview, Beard said he had no memory of hearing the racist rant attributed to Hamby.

“It would have been embedded in my mind,” Beard said. “And I know this much, I would have got all over him. I’d have jumped him bad. He knows it.”

Beard also told the AJC in 2018 he had asked for a forensic inspection of the recording “to make sure it’s me sitting there and on this tape and not me put on that tape.”

But when Beard sat down for his deposition more than a year later on Oct. 1, he said no such inspection had been conducted. He also said he was no longer certain whose voices were on the digital recording.

As for whether it was Hamby making the racist rants, Beard said, “I don’t know if it’s him or not. It’s sounding like him.”

Beard also testified he had never heard Hamby use a racial slur. He noted that Hamby was a different person after suffering concussions in a serious car accident in August 2016.

“He wasn’t Hamby,” Beard testified. “He had something wrong with him.”

During the deposition, Ingram’s lawyers repeatedly played the recordings to Beard. On one occasion, stopping after the “waitin’ on a fork lift” remark, Beard said, “That sounds like me, yes.”

He added, “But see … he was talking to me in a different setting than he was in that first one up there,” he said. “See, that’s what I was saying. Somebody’s played with these tapes.”

A forensic voice recognition expert retained by Ingram’s lawyers said that didn’t happen.

University of Montana professor Al Yonovitz said he detected no authenticity issues during his review of the recordings.

“There is no evidence of falsifications or additions, deletions or any modification of the audio passage,” he testified.

Yonovitz also compared the recordings of the racist rants to a recording of Hamby speaking at a 2015 graduation ceremony. He found it was “probable” that Hamby was the speaker on all of the recordings and said the likelihood it was someone else was “extremely small, perhaps less than 10 percent.”

In his deposition, Banks Bitterman, Buford High School's former principal, said he recognized Hamby's voice on the recordings. He also said Hamby sometimes used racial slurs when referring to African-American employees. This included referring to one high school assistant principal as a "black sow," Bitterman said.

Hamby denied using such language in his deposition.

Three other Buford school employees who worked with Hamby testified they’d never heard Hamby use a racial slur. They also acknowledged during their depositions that they’d listened to the recordings.

“It sounds like him,” testified Rita Cantrell, who served as assistant superintendent.

“Possibly,” said Hamby’s secretary, Amy Reed. “But it could be anybody’s voice.”

"I will say there are parts that sound like him," Joy Davis, who also served as assistant superintendent, said. "But do I recognize that for certain? No."

Buford native Mary Ingram, who worked as a paraprofessional, filed suit against the Buford school system in June 2018. She contends former superintendent Geye Hamby retaliated against her because she questioned the school board why the color gold — representing the city’s black school district before the system was integrated in 1969 — wasn’t included in the district’s green and white emblem.

Hamby resigned in August 2018, just days after the AJC published a story about the recordings. Buford then formed a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, comprised of parents, district employees and community members. An interim superintendent replaced Hamby until July 2019, when the school board hired Robert Downs as its new leader.

In Other News