Atlanta Citizen Review Board accuses Fulton County Sheriff of interfering in officer misconduct investigations
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, or ACRB, claims it has been blocked from interviewing people in the Fulton County jail system with complaints against the city’s police and corrections officers.
It includes the Atlanta City Detention Center, or ACDC, where the county started renting beds last year after Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said he needed the additional space to relieve some of the overcrowding at the county jail. Labat ran the detention center before being elected sheriff in January 2021.
In a statement to WABE on May 24, the sheriff’s office denied the board’s allegations and said it remained “committed to transparency.”
“The facts regarding this inquiry involve an ACRB investigator making one unannounced visit,” the office states. “Because jail staff was not familiar with the individual, jail staff informed the investigator that access would be granted once the ACRB coordinated [its] interviews with the subject inmate’s criminal defense attorney.”
“Like everyone,” the statement continues, “Fulton County inmates have constitutional rights against self-incrimination, which Sheriff Labat seeks to uphold. To remove any possible violation of these fundamental rights, Sheriff Labat’s staff requested that investigators facilitate interviews in a manner that guarantees the preservation of those rights.”
But the board said it does not conduct unannounced visits to jail facilities.
According to a letter sent to Labat on May 18, the board said it first learned that its investigators were no longer permitted to interview people in the custody of the sheriff’s office without first securing a warrant from a judge or receiving permission from their attorneys during their monthly meeting that was held one week prior.
Chair Dorthey Hurthy said in the letter investigators had been independently investigating alleged police misconduct by Atlanta’s sworn officers without issue since 2008.
“As you are aware, the ACRB only has jurisdiction to investigate the actions of Atlanta police and corrections officers with the goal of ensuring that citizens’ concerns about officer misconduct are responsibly addressed,” it states.
“While the current change in the sheriff’s office’s cooperation with the ACRB is troubling, we are hopeful that a resolution can be found that will not impede service and prevent citizens in the sheriff’s custody from participating in their right to file complaints and participate in investigations against Atlanta police and corrections officers.”
Labat said he did not receive the board’s letter and had been unaware of the issue until he saw it posted on social media.
The board’s executive director, Samuel Lee Reid II, said at the City Council Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee meeting on May 22, it’s not uncommon for people behind bars to not have legal representation until their trial. He said there are currently four individuals in ACDC with complaints against the city’s officers.
“We see this as direct opposition to our city’s efforts, the ACRB’s efforts to hold officers accountable,” Reid said.
But Labat said that’s a misnomer. He made a surprise visit at the meeting to defend his decision.
“This is an opportunity for us to enhance what we’re doing,” he said. “The only difference is we are holding people in ACDC.”