FALKVILLE, Ala. -- Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin has denied claims in a federal lawsuit, filed last week, that alleges the search and seizure of phones and computer from a Falkville business was political retaliation for critical blog posts.
The lawsuit was filed by blog contributor Glenda Lockhart and her company, Straightline Drywall & Acoustical LLC, and complains about the Oct. 5 search of her business. Lockhart is a contributor to the Morgan County Whistleblower blog, which has been a frequent critic of Franklin and others in the sheriff’s office.
[Read the lawsuit: lawsuit-filed-against-morgan-co-sheriff-deputies ]
The lawsuit claims 19 electronic devices were taken by deputies and that the company cannot conduct business without the devices.
“The property seized by the defendants and belonging to Straightline consists of specialized computer equipment and information on them including four years of tax information, payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, five million dollars of ongoing contract data, and approximately $35,000 in software,” the lawsuit claims.
Franklin told WHNT News 19 Wednesday the search warrant in the criminal investigation was signed by a Morgan County Circuit judge. She said the materials were returned to the company Oct. 21, after the contents were copied or mirrored by state computer forensics investigators.
Franklin said the materials were returned in a short time compared to how long it normally takes for investigators to get computer materials copied or analyzed.
Franklin said the search and seizure followed an internal investigation in former Morgan County Jail warden Leon Bradley.
Bradley’s home was searched Oct. 4 and Bradley was fired after a hearing Oct. 12.
Franklin said the termination was due to violations of department policy. She declined to say what policy, but the sheriff said Bradley provided third-parties, including Lockhart, with “sensitive” law enforcement documents.
The lawsuit contends the raid on the Falkville business was in retaliation for Lockhart’s criticism of Franklin and that the drywall company had no sheriff’s office materials on the premises that weren’t publicly obtained.
“Any basis presented by the defendants to Judge (Glenn) Thompson for the seizure of Straightline and Lockhart’s computers was false and/or misleading,” the lawsuit claims. “There was no possible legal basis for the defendants’ actions, as the plaintiffs possess no ‘work product of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department’ unless it was made publicly available and lawful to possess.
“The defendants’ unlawful and unjustified actions were taken in an effort to suppress and retaliate against Lockhart’s lawful speech made in the Whistleblower Blog.”
The sheriff denied the investigation is aimed at Lockhart’s free speech rights. She declined to say what the focus of the criminal investigation is, but that both Lockhart and Bradley are subjects in the investigation.
Bradley declined comment today.