DECATUR, Ala. -- A Morgan County judge Tuesday dismissed the tampering with government documents charge against former Morgan County jail warden Leon Bradley after two days of hearings that mainly focused on the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office investigation of the case.
It’s an especially complicated case, with allegations by the defense that law enforcement perjured themselves during the hearing, conducted an illegal wiretap and monitored sheriff’s office employees who might be talking to the FBI.
Its roots are in a long-running feud between Sheriff Ana Franklin and Morgan County Whistleblower blogger Glenda Lockhart.
Bradley faced a misdemeanor charge of tampering with government documents. Morgan County Sheriff’s Office investigators alleged Bradley had taken law enforcement records from the sheriff’s office, gave them to Lockhart and had law enforcement records at his home.
Bradley’s lawyers argued the search warrant used to search Bradley’s home was obtained through coercion of a confidential informant – Lockhart’s grandson -- who improperly gained access to a Morgan County blogger’s business.
He gathered documents while there, according to hearing testimony, and the documents gathered and photos he took served as a basis for the affidavit used to obtain the Bradley search warrant and a search warrant of Lockhart's business.
The informant – Daniel Lockhart – testified he received a “keylogger” from law enforcement officials and placed the recording software on his grandmother’s work and home computers.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying it was disappointed the charges against Bradley were dismissed, “without a full and fair opportunity for the presentation of evidence as to whether Mr. Bradley broke the law of the State of Alabama by disseminating confidential, law enforcement information to non-law enforcement personnel, which information was not subject to public disclosure.”
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office was prosecuting the case and agreed with the defense motion to dismiss the charges.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten, who defended Bradley with co-counsel Nick Heatherly was critical of the sheriff’s office investigation, arguing it was aimed at stopping the blog.
“This has been really wild, unbelievable in fact,” Tuten said. “It’s a classic example of law enforcement stepping over the line."
“The use of a keylogger on somebody’s private computer, first of all, is illegal, but that didn’t seem to slow ‘em down or stop ‘em. They obviously, from the testimony put it on more than one computer.”
The sheriff’s office denied any wrongdoing in the investigation, saying in its press release:
“It is important to note that much of the information on which both the investigation and warrant was based was obtained directly from computers at the Sheriff’s Office,” the statement reads.
“Nevertheless, it is the understanding of this Office that Daniel Lockhart admitted today under oath that he has lied on multiple occasions to different law enforcement personnel. The Sheriff’s Office understands and appreciates Judge Thompson’s obvious concern with avoiding even the appearance of impropriety in a criminal prosecution based even in part on this kind of testimony.
“To be clear, however, the Sheriff’s Office unequivocally denies any improprieties in the course of the investigation of Leon Bradley.”
Tuten also pointed to testimony from two sheriff’s office investigators who admitted driving to the Huntsville FBI office and touring the parking lot, trying to identify any vehicles belonging to sheriff’s office employees.
“To surveil the FBI to see who they’re talking to,” Tuten said. “Now that can only be for one or two reasons, either they want to know who the witnesses are so they can intimidate them into keeping their mouth shut, or to figure out what the witnesses may say, so they can figure out how to cover their tracks to where it won’t be led back to them.”
The defense asked the court to hold Morgan County law enforcement officers in contempt related to their testimony.
But Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson said he’d leave any contempt issues to others to handle.