University system asks GBI to pull agent off Fort Valley investigation

GBI says it’s moving control of the inquiry up its chain of command

The chancellor of the University System of Georgia on Thursday took the unusual step of demanding that a GBI agent be removed from an investigation at Fort Valley State University because, the chancellor said, the agent had been talking to more reporters than to students or school administrators.

The university system also said that Special Agent J.T. Ricketson had supplied incorrect information to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

» GBI calling in more agents in Fort Valley State probe

A letter on Thursday to GBI Director Vernon Keenan from Chancellor Steve Wrigley said, “Ricketson has from the moment he got on the case been talking to the media. He has talked to more reporters than Fort Valley State University students and officials. Such behavior damages the quality, credibility and integrity of the investigation.”

The letter continued: “We need a professional, thorough and timely investigation conducted. Ricketson has demonstrated he cannot provide this.”

Wrigley went on to ask that the agent be removed from the case and replaced by “a professional team to complete the investigation.”

Wrigley’s complaint got the GBI’s attention. The agency sent Wrigley a letter Thursday that said control of the investigation was being moved up the chain of command.

“I have elevated the case to the command staff level of our investigative division,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan wrote. An inspector who reports directly to the deputy director will oversee the case.

Keenan ended the letter with an assurance of a thorough investigation.

The inquiry at Fort Valley State concerns a university employee who has been placed on administrative leave as part of an investigation into misconduct and hazing. Several media outlets have reported that it involves the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and social media is rife with allegations that a sex ring is the focus of the investigation.

The sorority issued a statement earlier saying it was “appalled to learn of allegations of sexual misconduct against a Fort Valley State University employee who also is a graduate member of the sorority."

Wrigley’s  public comments about the GBI agent were highly unusual. Aside from saying Ricketson had talked to too many reporters, the chancellor’s sole complaint was that the agent had supplied incorrect information to the AJC regarding how the Fort Valley investigation got started.

In addition to Wrigley’s letter, the university system also issued a statement regarding the GBI’s handling of the matter.

It said, “Statements published . . . by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are distressing at best and false in detail. We have asked that this agent be removed from any further involvement in the case.”

Ricketson told the AJC that the alleged wrongdoing came to light during a recent Board of Regents visit to Fort Valley. A student mentioned it to a regent, who reported it to the state attorney general’s office, which directed the GBI to open a criminal investigation, the AJC reported, attributing the statement to Ricketson.

The university system’s statement said the account was untrue. It said:

“On April 5, 2018, administrators from Fort Valley State University received two separate reports of alleged wrongdoing. One report was made anonymously as a tip on a campus complaint hotline. The second report was made separately by an employee to the campus Title IX coordinator. The USG in conjunction with FVSU began an immediate investigation in accordance with its policies.”