Fired jailer sues sheriff: Probe of cult influence at issue

Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia/June 22, 2007
By Joe Johnson

A former Clarke County jailer will ask a jury to decide his claim that Sheriff Ira Edwards fired him because he is white, Christian and launched an investigation into a racist cult whose criminal leader met with the sheriff and donated money to his political campaign.

Brett Hart alleges that Edwards "subscribes" to the black supremacist beliefs of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, and hired Nuwaubian deputies in return for a large campaign contribution the group made when Edwards first ran for sheriff in 2000, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

"This contribution was made … as part of the Nuwaubian effort to ensure the placement of Nuwaubian members or supporters in the Clarke County Sheriff's Office and the propagation of Nuwaubian beliefs and tenets among the staff and inmates under (Edward's) control," the lawsuit claims.

As chief jailer, he consistently received favorable job performance reviews, Hart claims in the lawsuit, but that quickly changed after he began investigating Nuwaubian activities at the jail.

Edwards told Hart in April 2006 he was fired as part of a "change in management of jail operations" following a review of "the totality of jail operations," the lawsuit states. But, the lawsuit alleges, a 2004 Georgia Sheriff's Association report praised the local lock-up as "one of the best managed jails in the state."

Edwards wouldn't immediately dispute any of Hart's allegations, releasing a statement that said, "The Clarke County Sheriff's Office does not wish to comment on pending litigation."

Hart is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, claiming that when Edwards fired him, the sheriff violated Hart's constitutional rights as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The sheriff's office and county government are named as co-defendants in the civil action.

In addition to lost pay, the lawsuit seeks "punitive damages to be determined by the enlightened conscience of the jury to deter (the) defendants and others from similar misconduct in the future."

The lawsuit hints at evidence of Edwards' support of the Nuwaubians, branded as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The complaint alleges that Edwards made trips to the group's Egyptian-themed 146-acre compound in Eatonton, called "Tama-Re," where he met with the sect's leader, Dwight "Malachi" York, before and after his election in 2000. Edwards "knew or suspected" at the time that York was a felon, having been convicted in New York of statutory rape, resisting arrest and weapons possession, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit even mentions a set of pyramid-shaped paper weights on Edward's desk in his office at the Clarke County Courthouse, saying that "pyramids are commonly known Nuwaubian paraphernalia."

In return for the $2,000 campaign contribution made by "Z. York," one of the Nuwaubian leader's many aliases, the lawsuit alleges, Edwards hired at least six known Nuwaubians, knowing that five of them had resigned from the Macon Police Department out of allegiance to York, now serving a 135-year federal prison sentence.

The deputies quit their jobs in Macon in 2004 after the city's mayor refused to publicly support York while the Nuwaubian leader was prosecuted in federal court on charges of racketeering, money laundering and child molestation.

Prosecutors said York sexually assaulted his followers' children, some as young as 8 years old, both at the Nuwaubian's Putnam County compound and at a mansion York owned off Timothy Road in Athens, prosecutors said.

York still commands fierce loyalty while behind bars, the lawsuit says, and non-Nuwaubian deputies feared that sect members wouldn't come to their aid if trouble broke out at the jail.

"Although York is imprisoned and Tama-Re destroyed, the Nuwaubian Nation remains an intact organization," the lawsuit says. "Its members adhere to York's teachings, including the superiority of the Nuwaubian faith and the inferiority of non-African American races."

Hart alleges that his employer turned on him after he began investigating deputies for distributing Nuwaubian literature, recruiting prisoners and writing to York in prison, which the lawsuit claims violated jail policy, as well as state and federal law.

Soon after the investigation began, Edwards refused Hart's request to sign a verification of employment Hart needed to maintain standing with the American Jail Association as a certified jail manager. Edwards had signed an earlier employment verification "without hesitation," the lawsuit says.

"Edwards terminated Hart because he is white and (participated) in the internal investigation of the Nuwaubian deputies' letters to York that threatened the Nuwaubians' efforts to infiltrate the Athens-Clarke County Sheriff's Office," the lawsuit states.

The internal investigation Hart initiated found no policy violations, Edwards said at the time. But two months later, the sheriff's office launched a second internal probe in the wake of "intense scrutiny" by the media and a Clarke County grand jury into the circumstances surrounding Hart's firing, the lawsuit says.

But Edwards and other county officials later revised that report, removing as many as 40 pages, and ordering the deputy who led the investigation to destroy all copies of his original report.

After the second internal investigation, which concluded that deputies' Nuwaubian activities had compromised security at the jail, Edwards fired four Nuwaubian deputies and allowed a fifth to resign.

Before he filed suit, Hart lodged a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging he was a victim of reverse-discrimination.

The lawsuit says Hart was initially replaced as jail commander by a sheriff's captain who is black and also subscribes to Nuwaubian beliefs, but Edwards later filled the post with a white employee with no jail experience "to shield himself" from Hart's EEOC complaint.

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