AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Georgia sheriff withholding records in racist deputy case, lawsuit says

McIntosh County Sheriff Stephen Jessup is violating the law by failing to provide public records related to allegations of racial profiling and racist comments by his deputies, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

The Southern Center for Human Rights lawsuit filed Monday morning says the sheriff and his agency have failed to provide a single document related to a Sept. 15 request filed by the Atlanta-based non-profit firm.

The request is related, in part, to a case, first reported by the AJC, involving two McIntosh County deputies who used racists slurs on Facebook and discussed targeting black motorists.

The center's suit says they have received complaints from African-American motorists related to racial profiling by Jessup's deputies, including the use of racial slurs during a traffic stop. The center, which is investigating the department's actions, is seeking personnel files, incident reports and citizen complaints against the department, among other records.

The state's open records law requires a response by government agencies within three business days. If the request is large, the agency must outline a timeline and fulfill it within a reasonable period.

"To date, Plantiff has not received a single responsive document," the center's lawsuit says.

Jessup on Monday said they are not intentionally delaying the request. He blamed Hurricane Matthew, which brushed the Georgia coast Oct. 7 and 8, and sent the area into a state of emergency. He said the storm had delayed the department's response and that the center's request was so large it couldn't be filled within three days.

"We will see them in court," said Jessup, who is facing a re-election bid Nov. 8. His opponent is the former sheriff he defeated eight years ago, Charles Jones.

Jessup on Monday also said he was still investigating allegations that six to eight of his deputies drank beer at the jail during the storm. His chief deputy, George Trexler, was still on unpaid suspension stemming from that episode.

The AJC continues to investigate the Facebook incident and allegations of racial profiling in the agency. If you have information, please contact reporter Brad Schrade at 404-526-2875 or brad.schrade@ajc.com.


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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.