FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB) is alleging that Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat blocked its misconduct investigators from interviewing inmates inside the Atlanta Detention Center.
Due to overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail, the sheriff is leasing beds at the city's detention center. The ACRB said there are three inmates in the city's detention center, which are in the custody of Fulton County, that have filed complaints with the board.
"We were requesting to interview them. The city jail contacted Fulton County and Fulton County advised that that we could not at that time," ACRB Executive Director Samuel Lee Reid said.
The ACRB released a document to 11Alive on Tuesday titled, "Fulton County Sheriff's Office Interference with ACRB Investigations Timeline." It can be viewed below.
The ACRB said in the past 15 years, they've never been denied access to interview an inmate regarding a complaint filed with the board.
"Since the inception of the ACRB, we have been able to enter the city jail and the Fulton County Jail to interview citizens who have complaints against Atlanta police and corrections officers. And everybody understands the process. So I don't understand what the problem is now," Reid explained.
The Fulton County Sheriff's Office informed the ACRB that they would need a court order or permission from the inmate's attorneys before they would be allowed to interview them.
On May 18 Dorthey Hurst, who is the ACRB chair, sent a certified letter addressed to Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat.
In the letter, Hurst wrote:
The ACRB said they did not get any response from Labat.
On May 22, Reid addressed Atlanta City Council's Public Safety Committee regarding the situation.
He told the committee the board's biggest concern and challenge is the relationship with the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.
Following Reid's remarks, Labat ended up making his way to the hearing. He addressed the committee and took questions from council members.
Labat also thanked the committee for what they do to serve the city and then addressed the issue.
"I did hear some misnomers and I want to see if you all had any opportunities to, for me to correct what has been given to you all," Labat said. "The assertion I sent you a letter, no I saw the letter on social media. I don't operate like that."
The sheriff was referring to the certified letter Reid said was sent to his office. Labat maintains that he never saw it except on social media.
The sheriff used the term enhancement when referring to requiring the ACRB misconduct investigators to get a court order or permission from an inmate's attorneys to interview them. He told the committee it happened after complaints from lawyers but didn't specify which lawyers or when the complaints were made.
On May 23, the sheriff sent a letter to the ACRB Chair in response to her concerns.
It stated the following:
"And that response is a total fabrication," Reid said about the sheriff's letter. "None of my investigators went over to the Fulton County Jail or any jail unannounced. That's not our process."
Reid said the goal is to ensure that citizens of Atlanta have a fair and transparent opportunity to have their complaints investigated.
"It has an impact on citizens," Reid said.
As to what's next? Reid said they hope the sheriff will reconsider this policy he's enforced against the ACRB.
"You know, if you're going to stop a process that has nothing to do with you, what else is going on there? Maybe there needs to be some oversight in the jail. I'm just throwing that out there," Reid said.
As to how the ACRB works, Reid said citizens bring a complaint to the board. They investigate it by interviewing citizens, witnesses, and officers involved, getting body-worn camera video, all reports, and any other possible footage of the incident in question.
He said they then take their findings to the board, which makes a decision that is then given to the chief -- who will determine the course of action against the officer or officers.
The ACRB released a statement in response to Fulton County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) Letter to 11Alive on Wednesday:
"While the ACRB has yet to receive Sheriff Patrick Labat’s letter (downloaded from the Channel 11 Alive as attached), we have reviewed the letter that was provided to Channel 11 Alive News yesterday. The narrative that Sheriff Labat is now providing to the public and the media is FALSE and is an attempt to undermine the agency’s integrity.
The ACRB does not conduct unannounced visits to jail facilities and did not attempt an unannounced visit as referenced in Sheriff Labat’s letter. The work of the ACRB is too serious to be embroiled in playing games that impact our ability to serve the citizens of Atlanta with the best civilian oversight. Officer accountability and transparency is a serious issue that requires serious leaders to address citizens’ concerns. Any impediments, interference, or obstruction is counter to the spirit of justice, fairness, and transparency. "
Sheriff's Labat's latest statement
Sheriff Patrick "Pat" Labbat issued a public response June 1 regarding the Atlanta Citizen Review Board.
The full statement can be found below:
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) remains committed to operating with professionalism and transparency in a way that facilitates due process and protects constitutional rights.
Regarding the working relationship between the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and Atlanta Citizen’s Review Board (ACRB), it’s important to understand that the ACRB provides citizen oversight of misconduct accusations against sworn members of the police and corrections departments in the City of Atlanta.
Our review of the facts reveals an ACRB investigator notified Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) staff about an interview visit at ACDC.
While at ACDC, that same investigator decided to visit FCSO units within the ACDC facility and requested to interview inmates in FCSO custody.
Because notice to ACDC does not constitute notice to FCSO, the staff working the FCSO units within ACDC were unaware of the investigator’s visit.
The resulting confusion was not intended to hinder ACRB investigators from interviewing inmates. Instead, it was a result of FCSO staff exercising due diligence to adhere to policies and procedures while safeguarding the rights of individuals under their care.
To that end, the FCSO is working to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will provide standard operating procedures for inmate interviews at FCSO facilities and ensure a process of accountability and efficiency as FCSO and ACRB work to meet their respective missions for the constituents they are sworn to serve.