A Richmond County grand jury declined Tuesday to indict anyone for a March incident involving the use of city of Augusta and Richmond County Sheriff’s Office equipment at a private site in Lincoln County.
The March events prompted the June 12 resignation of Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson. He resigned shortly after City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson placed him on leave to complete a city investigation into the incident and a few days after she said she received a sheriff’s office report about it.
District Attorney Natalie Paine said she had listened to sheriff’s office interviews after receiving a case file June 1. She said rather than conducting additional interviews and making a decision herself, she presented the case to the grand jury Tuesday.
“The individuals involved were subpoenaed and physically came to the grand jury to testify, under oath, and answer questions from the grand jury and myself,” Paine said.
The grand jury had the option of indicting any of the witnesses or issuing a civil indictment, and after hearing from witnesses it issued a civil presentment, she said.
In the written presentment, the grand jury determined that two landfill employees, retired solid waste manager McKinley Williams and equipment operator Robert Wilson, traveled to Lincoln County while being paid city wages some time after after March 8. It also stated that Johnson had directed Williams to leave the landfill while on the clock, but that no one was breaking the law.
“It would appear that McKinley Williams, manager of the landfill, was following a directive from Director Mark Johnson to go help Troy Meeks, a contractor who did work at the landfill in 2009 to 2010,” the presentment stated.
Two mini-excavators, “basically identical in nature,” were confused by Johnson because of the bucket attached, it continued. Johnson told “ McKinley Williams to use the Mini-Ex with the ditching bucket for the job in Lincolnton, believing that the Mini-Ex with the ditching bucket was privately owned,” it stated.
Because Johnson had instructed Williams to leave the landfill, and Williams supervised Wilson, “we do not find any ability to prosecute based on theft of wages,” the jury reported. Williams had earlier filed a risk management form allowing him to travel outside Richmond County, and as a salaried employee had worked more than two weeks of overtime without pay earlier in the year, it stated.
Moreover, it said, the Mini-Ex had not been used at the site because “the weather at the time was inclement.” As an asset seized by the sheriff’s office, it was “essentially of no cost to the county,” the presentment stated.
The jury said that although it was “concerning that employees are working on jobs outside of Augusta-Richmond County while being paid by the taxpayers of Richmond County,” there was no criminal intent.
“There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that anyone involved in this incident possessed criminal intent and as such, we find no basis to charge anyone in connection with this incident,” the jury stated.
Seventeen people served on the grand jury, with Amanda Glover as forewoman. The group voted unanimously not to indict anyone, Paine said.
Jackson’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The Lincoln County resident, Al Gray, who sent photos of the equipment and Johnson in Lincoln County to the sheriff’s office, questioned who the grand jury interviewed.
“I just think it’s real curious some of the people they didn’t talk to,” Gray said. “I don’t know that the grand jury based what they had on what the sheriff had. That’s a conflict.”
Gray said the presentment leaves a laughable precedent for the public to use government equipment at no charge.
“Now you’ve got a whole citizenry that has established who they are – you can do this sort of thing and it’s OK,” he said. “Two hundred thousand citizens in that county that can say they want to use the county’s equipment at a whim.”
Gray and Augusta Commission member Marion Williams said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation should have investigated before the grand jury heard the case.
“I think the indictment would have come if there was some investigation by the GBI,” Williams said. “I thought the investigation was going to come and then the indictment.”
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.