The Morgan County sheriff and one of her deputies "deliberately misled" the court in obtaining search warrants, and along with others at the Sheriff's Office “endeavored to hide or cover up their deception and criminal actions under the color of law,” according to a judge's ruling.
Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson issued the written ruling Friday dismissing the misdemeanor charge against fired Warden Leon Bradley after announcing from the bench Tuesday that he planned to do so.
“This order is significant because it demonstrates that abuses of power or office done under the color of law will not be tolerated within our county," said Nick Heatherly, Bradley’s attorney.
The ruling follows testimony from 11 witnesses April 20 and Tuesday. Thompson issued factual determinations that sided with witnesses whose testimony favored Bradley and rejected much of the testimony by Sheriff Ana Franklin, Sgt. Blake Robinson, Lt. Robert “Bones” Wilson and information technology employee Justin Powell.
Robinson had signed the affidavits relied upon by Thompson in issuing search warrants Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, 2016. Robinson and Franklin were present in meetings with the judge on both search warrants, and Wilson was present at one of the meetings, according to their testimony. Franklin and her deputies testified Daniel Lockhart, the grandson of blogger Glenda Lockhart of Falkville, had provided the Sheriff’s Office with information taken from his grandmother’s business. The Sheriff’s Office used this information to secure the search warrants.
Thompson ruled the Sheriff’s Office intentionally withheld facts from him when it requested the search warrants. The following information was withheld from the court, according to the ruling:
• That Daniel Lockhart was a paid agent of the Sheriff’s Office. Franklin paid him $300 and Wilson paid him $200, according to testimony at the hearing.
• That the Sheriff’s Office threatened to incarcerate Daniel Lockhart in its effort to secure his cooperation. Franklin testified that threats of arrest were made if he revealed his cooperation, but that they were appropriate and similar to threats made with other confidential informants.
• That the Sheriff’s Office instructed Daniel Lockhart to enter his grandmother’s business, Straight Line Drywall, to remove documents and obtain computer and email passwords.
• That the Sheriff’s Office provided Daniel Lockhart with software to record keystrokes entered on Glenda Lockhart’s computer. Daniel Lockhart testified he received the keylogger from Powell. Powell admitted he provided the keylogger, but he and Franklin denied she knew about it.
• That Robinson maintained a perimeter at Straight Line Drywall so he could warn Daniel Lockhart if anyone approached while he was copying documents. Robinson admitted to this in court.
Thompson also found that the Sheriff’s Office tried to get numerous agencies to prosecute the case, including the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the sheriff’s offices in Madison and Limestone counties. All of these agencies declined, according to the ruling. At the hearing, Etowah County sheriff’s investigator Steve McGlathery testified his department agreed to file charges for Morgan County. “I believed they lied to us, they used us,” McGlathery said.
Directly rejecting the truthfulness of her testimony, Thompson found that Franklin met with a Madison County deputy to seek assistance in the prosecution before the search warrants were issued, and that she indicated to him “that she was awaiting information to be provided by the keylogger.”
Franklin in her sworn testimony denied meeting with Madison deputies before the search warrant was issued, and she denied any knowledge of the keylogger. In ruling against her, Thompson accepted the testimony of Madison County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Salomonsky and Morgan County Sgt. Kyle Wilson.