Although he dismissed the criminal case against fired jail warden Leon Bradley, Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson has declined to hold contempt hearings against the sheriff and her deputies.
During a hearing that began Friday and culminated this morning, Bradley's lawyers sought to prove that Sheriff Ana Franklin and three of her employees lied to get warrants and have the warden arrested. Bradley was charged a misdemeanor, tampering with government documents, at the culmination of an investigation into whether he was leaking information to a local blogger. Today, Bradley said he walked away an "exonerated" man.
"I am extremely thankful for the truth coming out," Bradley told AL.com after the hearing.
A central question of the hearing was whether Franklin and her office illegally obtained evidence to get Thompson to issue search warrants during an investigation into Bradley and local blogger Glenda Lockhart. Thompson signed warrants in October 2016 for Franklin and her deputies to search Bradley's home and Lockhart's office.
Lockhart authors the Morgan County Whistleblower, a blog that's been critical of the sheriff and her office for years. Lockhart hasn't been charged with a crime. The judge today ordered that law enforcement return to Lockhart and Bradley any items that were seized during the 2016 searches."I think everything went well today, and justice will prevail," said Lockhart as she left the courthouse.
Bradley's lawyers, Robert Tuten and Nick Heatherly, have said they believe Franklin and her deputies were untruthful when they requested the search warrants. The lawyers have alleged Franklin and the deputies didn't tell the judge about paying an informant to install a surveillance software on Lockhart's computer.
"Law enforcement shouldn't cross the line and shouldn't mislead a judge," said Tuten after today's hearing. He said it took longer than expected, but he's glad Bradley has been exonerated. Asked if he's disappointed the judge denied a motion to hold contempt hearings, Tuten said, "That's not really our job to worry about that."
Lockhart's grandson, Daniel, was the informant who worked with the sheriff's office. He was called to testify today. Daniel Lockhart testified about the sheriff paying him $500 to gather information about his grandmother. Daniel Lockhart went into his grandmother's business after hours and installed a surveillance software, known as a keylogger, on his grandmother's computer, he testified. He claims he spied on his grandmother at the request of Franklin and deputies Blake Robinson and Robert "Bones" Wilson. Daniel Lockhart also claims another sheriff's employee, Justin Powell, provided the keylogger and showed his how to install it on his grandmother's computers.During testimony last week, Franklin vehemently denied knowing anything about the keylogger software. She claims she didn't find out about the keylogger until a recent federal court hearing at which there was testimony about the device. That testimony came during a hearing in a civil lawsuit that Glenda Lockhart has filed against the sheriff's office. The lawsuit accuses the sheriff and her deputies of illegally gathering evidence by sending Daniel to burglarize his grandmother's Falkville business, Straightline Drywall and Acoustical.
Because of Bradley's former position as the warden, the Morgan County District Attorney's Office recused from prosecuting the case. The Alabama Attorney General's Office took over.
The sheriff also said she didn't want the situation to appear like a conflict of interest, so she brought in an outside law enforcement agency to bring charges against the warden.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin sent Investigator Stephen McGlathery to probe the case for Morgan County. Using evidence gathered by Franklin's crew, McGlathery got a warrant for the fired warden's arrest.
"I am most thankful for the court and the good law enforcement officers who did the right thing and had the courage to tell the truth," Bradley said after today's hearing. "Some of those guys were put in an awkward position. But they proved they're folks who will stand up and tell the truth."
The hearing was set after Bradley's lawyers filed motions for dismissal of the charge and for the evidence gathered by the search warrants to be thrown out. The AG's office agreed to dismiss the charge, but Bradley's lawyers said they wanted the judge to hear testimony about whether the sheriff's office mishandled the case.
The judge said today he wouldn't hold contempt hearings against Franklin, Robinson, Wilson or Powell. "I'm leaving that up to other people," he said. The judge didn't specify to whom he is leaving the possibility for contempt charges, though Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson and Assistant Attorney General Matt Hart were in the courtroom. Prosecutors have said they can't comment on the case.