Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is accusing a local blogger of misleading sources and the courts as part of a plot against the sheriff and her office.
In a counterclaim filed last week, the sheriff and three deputies allege that blogger Glenda Lockhart has defamed them on her website the Morgan County Whistleblower. For years, Lockhart has used her blog to accuse the sheriff and her office of wrongdoing and illegal activity. Lockhart has also filed multiple lawsuits against the sheriff.“It is born out of resentment, and is nothing less than vengeance,” says the counterclaim, which was filed in response to a lawsuit Lockhart is pursuing against the sheriff. “In fact, Glenda LockharthatesAna Franklin, (and the three deputies) Bob Wilson, Blake Robinson, and Justin Powell, and everything they stand for.”
In one claim, Franklin’s filing says Lockhart’s blog “made reference to ... a bizarre theory that Sheriff Franklin was participating in some elaborate plot, along with the Morgan County Commission, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Vice President Mike Pence to assassinate President Donald Trump." A search by AL.com found no such blog post.
The filing says “anonymous” comments on the blog on Sept. 6, 2018, imply Franklin “was offering sexual services to Vice President Pence, in exchange for “help” in Morgan County."
The 61-page counterclaim was filed in federal court by Birmingham attorney William Gray. The document alleges defamation, fraud, conspiracy, trespassing, invasion of privacy and more.
“This is crazy,” said Lockhart’s attorney Brandy Lee in a phone interview with AL.com. “This, to me, is the sheriff trying to shut down Ms. Lockhart’s free speech.”The counterclaim alleges Lockhart has deceived her sources — including ousted jail warden Leon Bradley — into sharing sensitive information, including law enforcement documents and health records regarding sheriff’s office employees.
The counterclaim also alleges that Lockhart has filed frivolous lawsuits and deceived a judge.
Earlier this year, Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson ruled that Franklin, along with deputies Blake Robinson, Robert "Bones" Wilson and Justin "JP" Powell, acted criminally during an investigation into the fired jail warden and Lockhart. Thompson in April dismissed a misdemeanor case against Bradley, who had been arrested by the sheriff’s office.
After hearing testimony from 11 witnesses during a two-day hearing, Thompson wrote in a scathing order that the sheriff’s office provided a keylogger to a confidential informant who "unlawfully" installed it on Lockhart’s computer. A keylogger is a spy software that records keystrokes and allows for the capture of a person’s computer activity and passwords.
The sheriff’s counterclaim says that Thompson’s order was “procured by fraud.”
“…it was premised upon the falsified belief that one or more personnel from the (sheriff’s office) conspired to install keylogger software, when, in fact, Glenda Lockhart…installed keylogger on her own computer.”The sheriff’s office got search warrants from Thompson in October 2016 when they were investigating whether Bradley, the former warden, had leaked sensitive information to Lockhart for publication on her blog.
The warrants — which authorized the search of Bradley’s home and Lockhart’s business — were issued based on information the sheriff’s office gathered from a confidential informant. The informant was Lockhart’s grandson, who worked at her Falkville, Ala. business, Straightline Drywall.
Thompson wrote that Franklin and Robinson "deliberately misled" the court to get the warrants. Specifically, the judge wrote, the sheriff's office "intentionally withheld" the fact they paid and threatened their confidential informant.At the hearing, Daniel Lockhart — the confidential informant and Glenda’s grandson — testified that he installed the keylogger software on his grandmother’s computer. Deputy Powell admitted under oath that he gave Daniel the keylogger.
In the counterclaim, the sheriff says computer experts have found no evidence that a keylogger was ever installed on Lockhart’s computer. Instead, the counterclaim says, the woman installed keyloggers on two other computers in her own office to mislead the court.“This is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life,” Lockhart toldAL.com. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
While the counterclaim says a keylogger was never installed on Lockhart’s computer, it also alleges that the computer was wiped shortly before the sheriff’s office served their search warrant.
The counterclaim requests a jury trial on nine counts, including invasion of privacy, trespassing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and deceit, and defamation. The counterclaim doesn’t specify how much the plaintiffs are seeking in damages. It asks for an amount to “punish and deter (Lockhart) from any such future conduct.”
Lockhart has intentionally and knowingly published false information about Franklin and the three deputies, the document says.
On the blog, Lockhart repeatedly referred to the sheriff and deputies as “thugs,” and accused of them of illegal and immoral activity. The lawsuit says all of the claims are false.
However, the sheriff was held in contempt of a federal court order last year after it was revealed she invested $150,000 of the jail's inmate food fund in a now-bankrupt crooked used car lot that was co-owned by a convicted federal felon. On the Whistleblower blog, Lockhart published checks that publicly proved Franklin had used the inmate food money as a loan to the car lot, Priceville Partners.“The items that Ms. Lockhart has posted on her blog, many of them have come to fruition,” Lee said.
The sheriff’s counterclaim accuses Lockhart and her associates of spying on Franklin and her deputies, trespassing on Franklin’s home property, installing GPS trackers on sheriff’s office vehicles and surveilling employees.
The counterclaim says Lockhart even hired a private plane to fly over a lower Alabama farm because Lockhart believes the sheriff used illegal funds to purchase the property. Aerial photos of the property were posted on Lockhart’s blog. The sheriff denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
The sheriff and her office have been the subjects of investigations by local, state and federal authorities. Franklin didn’t seek re-election this year. She will be replaced in January by Hartselle police Chief Ron Puckett.
Lockhart and her associates have openly said they are sharing information with the FBI and other law enforcement.
The counterclaim alleges Lockhart obtained secret information by misleading people to believe she was working as part of a federal and state criminal investigation.
“I have never presented myself as an FBI agent,” Lockhart told AL.com. “I have given people the FBI telephone number and said if they wanted to share with the FBI, they were free to do so.”From the beginning
Lockhart began blogging about Franklin after being arrested by the sheriff's office in 2011 on a charge of obstructing government operations. Also arrested was Lockhart's husband, Hal. The charges ultimately were dismissed, but the Lockharts sued the sheriff for unlawful arrest. The lawsuit was settled privately, and Lockhart has told AL.com she can't discuss details of the settlement.
The sheriff's office was called to help when the Lockharts' son, who was mentally ill, gained possession of a gun, according to testimony given in a deposition. The call was made from the son's home on the family property in Falkville, but deputies responded to the Lockhart home, which is located at a different address on the property.
Lockhart said deputies spent hours at her home, searching the house, property and a garage -- instead of assisting with the call at her son's home. The couple was arrested because they asked deputies not to continue searching the home without a warrant, Lockhart said.
"If this could happen to us, she could do this to anyone," Lockhart told AL.com for a 2017 story. "It was really devastating."After that incident, Lockhart said she became concerned about how Franklin's office was policing the county and decided to investigate, publishing her findings on the blog. That included publishing details of Franklin's use of the inmate food money to make a loan to Priceville Partners.
The blog is a way, Lockhart told AL.com in 2017, “to be a voice for the people who really feel like they’ve been done wrong by the sheriff’s office.”
The sheriff’s counterclaim says Lockhart has been “embittered ever since” the arrest.
“The apparent animus and malicious hatred verbalized by (Lockhart)…is born of nothing less than resentment and a vindictive intent towards the counter-plaintiffs for performing their sworn duties to enforce the laws of this state and Morgan County,” the counterclaim says.