You might call it the question of the year in local law enforcement circles:
“Why in the world would Sheriff Richard Roundtree tolerate one of his men issuing an order that barred District Attorney Natalie Paine from the Richmond County Jail, at any time, for any reason, whatsoever?”
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily supplant an equally important question that has been around since the sheriff was elected in 2012:
“What incriminating evidence must Robert Partain have on the sheriff, to have seen him promoted to and maintained as colonel in the department, when he has been described as the singularly most (departmentally) destructive human being to ever wear a badge in Augusta?”
Make no mistake, it was Colonel Partain’s order that saw the District Attorney turned around and escorted out of the Richmond County Jail that is under his command, even though the message was delivered by Major Frank Tiller.
In Paine’s March 6 letter to the sheriff, she details the Feb. 22 phone call that was placed by her to him the night she was “turned out,” where she demanded an explanation as to the change in apparently longstanding policy that allowed her and her team access to inmates and suspects in custody whenever reasonably possible and necessary. He said he would get back to her after he made inquiries into the policy change, but he never did.
What kind of sheriff treats a sitting district attorney with such professional disrespect?
Keep in mind, Paine was not at the jail to lead the Inmate Chorus; she was there as part of the GBI’s investigation into a suspicious inmate death, which now is believed to be a homicide. One would think the sheriff would want every possible hand on deck from the investigative and judicial leadership team, getting to the bottom of the situation as soon as humanly possible … but apparently, Colonel Partain doesn’t subscribe to that approach.
While we can be thankful that there doesn’t appear to be any jail personnel directly implicated in the death of 26-year-old inmate Lendon Stephens Jr., perhaps the sheriff (and Colonel Partain) needs to be reminded that similarly in 1970, no jail personnel were directly involved in the death of inmate Charles Oatman.
Oatman, a 16-year-old developmentally disabled inmate, was murdered in his cell by two other prisoners.
There was an attempted cover-up of the brutal beating by the jail administration under the control of then Sheriff “Foots” Atkins. Officers initially claimed that Oatman died because he fell off his bunk.
Once the truth was discovered, the resulting community uproar triggered the Augusta Riots. It was three days of violence that saw six protestors killed by police gunfire, and millions of dollars in property damage because of looting and vandalism.
To sum up, it was all the result of white jailers trying to cover up the death of a black inmate, at the hands of other black inmates.
Thankfully, it doesn’t appear any riots are going to erupt in response to the still-unsolved death of Stephens, but pardon us all if the indefensible attitude and total lack of explanation from the likes of white jail commander Colonel Partain whose orders impeded the duly elected DA from performing her due diligence in a death investigation, hits a little too close to home.
An investigation likely to show that a black inmate died at the hands of other black inmates.
But enough about Partain, who goes by the nickname “Maglite,” because he reportedly once beat a combative suspect to death with his flashlight. A suspect who was in the hospital at the time.
The buck stops with Roundtree in this matter, because alleged incriminating blackmail material aside, it is his policy that counts at the Richmond County Jail, not that of the Napoleonic Colonel.
I personally suggested to the DA that she employ the use of subpoenas to direct that any and all inmates she needs to interview, currently in Roundtree’s custody, be delivered at his department’s expense to the secured lockups of either the Burke or Columbia County jails. I know for a fact that both Sheriff Alfonso Williams and Sheriff Clay Whittle welcome the DA and her staff with open arms and gracious hospitality.
In the unusual event that access must be denied there, for some unforeseen reason, I can also guarantee that both Sheriff Williams and Whittle would not hesitate to explain the matter immediately and without delay, in great detail.
They would do that because they are seasoned professionals who respect and understand the importance of clear and timely communication between the District Attorney and their departments.
Unlike Sheriff Roundtree, who does not get that, and apparently is just an immature asshole.
If Roundtree’s ridiculous policy creates the most expensive and dangerous Uber service in the area as he carts murderers and rapists to other jails for interviews, so be it — that is on him. And Maglite.
POST SCRIPT : I must say that I have been appalled and mystified that the story of this conflict between Paine and Roundtree has barely registered with the Augusta media. There has been no TV coverage of this mess (that I have seen), and Paine tells me the only phone calls from reporters she has gotten on this issue have been from me, Sylvia Cooper, and Dana Lynn McIntyre at Channel 12. The Augusta Chronicle‘s staff reductions and transfers have been devastating for the quality and quantity of their daily news coverage. Award-winning court and cops reporter Sandy Hodson and city government reporter Susan McCord were worth their weight in gold on their respective beats. The new ownership and management of the daily paper are insane for shifting them away from those duties. Insane.