There was no way to know what he was doing when he was doing it, but Al “The Arrowslinger” Gray may have nailed a “trifecta” with his camera in Lincoln County last March, documenting possible graft, mismanagement, malfeasance, and grave dereliction of duty in no less than three areas of government in Augusta-Richmond County.
For his efforts, he already has the head of Landfill Director Mark Johnson (rhetorically) mounted on his wall, and before all is said and done, there could be, and certainly should be, professional casualties both in the administrator’s office and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
No need to review all the particulars, you have been reading about them for a few weeks now. Suffice to say what City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson apparently attempted to sweep under the rug as “no big deal”, has turned out to be just the opposite, and all this has the potential to claim collateral damage in all kinds of interesting directions.
Gray documented Augusta city-owned construction equipment sitting on a piece of privately owned land in Lincoln County. When he started looking for answers, this little scheme started to peel back in pieces like the mother of all Blooming Onions. Someone made the mistake of telling Gray a quickly assembled Richmond County Sheriff’s Department “investigation report” was going to be turned over to the District Attorney’s office for evaluation, and that never happened. Not until District Attorney Natalie Paine heard about that “promise” and then went looking for the report. Sure enough, no one had sent it to her, because a decision had been made that “no criminal wrongdoing had occurred.”
She didn’t like hearing that answer, and for good damn reason.
In cases like this, if and when “no criminal wrong doing” is the conclusion, there had better be some very specific language and explanations attached to the logic, authored by someone with the legal credentials to do it. This is how James Comey got in trouble on the Hillary Clinton email situation. In a high profile or controversial case, cops should investigate and then hand over what they find to the district attorney (or in Comey’s case, the Attorney General), they should never declare “there is nothing here to prosecute.” In matters like this, it is simply not their job to make that call.
Back in March, the responsibility for the whole fiasco was stamped on the head of now retired landfill employee McKinley Williams. The explanation that Johnson gave as to why Williams was in Lincoln County with a piece of taxpayer owned construction equipment, working on private land, during landfill business hours, was laughable.
For some reason, City Administrator Jackson, Johnson’s immediate supervisor, accepted the “cock and bull” story and declared the matter closed. That was when virtually no one knew the story. Then Al Gray sent me the pictures documenting the situation, and the rest is history.
Since that time, Sheriff’s officer Rufus (Rusty) Eskew has emerged as one of the people attempting to explain Williams’ “mistake” in taking that particular piece of equipment, because he says he gave him permission to take his equipment, which he apparently keeps on city property, because he had switched front buckets on the machine, and the confusion was to be expected. If you believe all that, I have some oceanfront property in McBean you may be interested in, cheap! In the meantime, no explanation was given as to why anyone was allowed to use city owned trailers to move the stuff.
When Eskew’s name appeared in print associated with this story, my phone and computer lit up with more stories than 20 sailors could tell after a drunken night in Manila. The man’s personal and professional reputation is something to behold. He was hired by Sheriff Richard Roundtree shortly after his election, and among his rather odd list of duties, procuring and tracking God knows how much or how many pieces of surplus equipment that comes into the sheriff’s department by way of giveaway, sales or property seizures.
When the officer preparing the sheriff’s office’s report on this fiasco asked Eskew if he had been in Lincoln County himself, for any reason lately, Eskew reportedly said he had been up there “looking at hunting property” with Robert Partain.
That would be Col. Robert Partain of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and well known confidant and No.2 best bud of the sheriff himself. The opinion of five, count them, FIVE, different career law officers I have heard from on this matter (two retired, two working, one working for a state law enforcement agency…but all with extensive RCSO experience) is that Partain “runs interference” for Eskew, who is allowed to do what he wants to do with all kinds of taxpayer owned equipment, while making the rules up as he goes. He has been described to me as a cross between Mr. Haney, the peddler on “Green Acres”, and the slickest con man on the Augusta city payroll.
In case you are wondering where you might have heard that name, Rusty Eskew is the former owner of the now defunct wildlife sanctuary and zoo known as the Graystone Ranch. The Augusta Chronicle reported on the closing of the facility back in February of 2015, and by the looks of the Tracey McManus report, claims that Eskew likes to play “fast and loose” with the rules may be a generous assessment:
“The owners of Graystone Ranch in Hephzibah withdrew their application for a new operating license with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday and have relinquished all of their exotic animals to other facilities, officials confirmed.
The USDA had recently conducted a pre-license inspection at the 500-acre ranch before owner Rusty Eskew halted the process, but the findings of that inspection are not public information, according to USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa.
While Graystone will not pursue a new license, the USDA is still investigating allegations the owners violated federal law by exhibiting animals to the public for nearly a year without a license in 2014, Espinosa said.
An Augusta Chronicle reporter took an exotic animal tour in October and interviewed another patron who viewed the animals in September.
Facilities that exhibit certain animals to the public, along with research labs, breeders and dealers, are required to be licensed by USDA and regulated through annual inspections by the agency.
USDA records show Graystone canceled its previous license in January 2014, but the owners continued to advertise its exotic animal tour on billboards and flyers and allowed patrons inside last year.
Animal welfare advocates also called into question the conditions of the animals at the facility and the laws in place to protect captive wildlife.
Since 2012 Graystone has had 10 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, a federal law meant to protect captive animals and enforced by USDA through annual inspections, but never received a penalty or punishment.”
So Eskew reportedly claimed he and Partain were scouting for “hunting and fishing property” in Lincoln County. He better hope the wildlife up there doesn’t get word of how he treated their brethren a few years back.
Al Grey did opine that it does play into the theory of one of his connected sources regarding this matter, that the property in question was being developed as a hunting and fishing retreat to be used by God knows who, all at the discretion and invitation of the property owners, who (oh, by the way) reportedly have business connections to the Augusta landfill operation.
If anyone can read all this and surmise that all in play here was a misunderstanding and a lone broken city policy, you have a far better imagination than most of us.
Answers and accountability are needed, but fast!