Attorneys for Clayton County Parks and Recreation employee Brandon Turner have filed separate lawsuits for slander against Clayton County Commissioners Felicia Franklin and Alieka Anderson, alleging the commissioners defamed Turner by falsely calling him a “convicted felon.”
Turner, who is the adult son of Chairman Jeff Turner, was the target of a July 19 pseudonymous e-mail sent by “email@example.com” and then forwarded by Franklin to numerous county officials and members of metro Atlanta news media. That e-mail falsely stated that Turner was a “convicted felon” and asked for a copy of Turner’s personnel file.
Franklin sent copies of that e-mail to Clayton County commissioners, Human Resources Director Pamela Ambles, COO Detrick Stanford, another county e-mail address for the COO, Police Chief Kevin Roberts, and Deputy Police Chief Bruce Parks, as well as to The Clayton Crescent’s editor, Robin Kemp; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Leon Stafford; WSB-TV’s Tom Jones and Richard Belcher; and general newsroom e-mail addresses for WSB-TV and CBS46 (now Atlanta’s News Channel).
Ambles told Franklin that Turner was not a convicted felon and that her department followed federal employment law, EEOC guidelines, and Civil Service rules in vetting Turner.
Anderson then sent an e-mail to all recipients ordering her to “answer the questions posed by Commissioner Franklin today 07/21/2022 by the close of business as instructed.”
Under county code, “no official or employee” shall disclose confidential information that falls outside the state Open Records Act “or other properly enacted statutory authority…for his, her, or another person/entity private gain, or in order to advance his or her financial or personal interests or the financial or personal interests of any person/entity or business, under any circumstances.” While county employees’ personnel files are public records, some items in those files are exempt from public disclosure under the ORA. By law, Turner’s exoneration may not be used in an employment decision—even if his records were not sealed.
The Clayton Crescent pulled Turner’s court records in Henry County, which showed he had been exonerated:
On July 27, attorney David C. Will, who is representing Turner, sent a cease and desist letter to both Franklin and Anderson, calling on them to retract their statements, provide a written apology to Turner, and to retain all e-mails, text messages, electronic communications, social media posts, and “records of all cell phone calls relating to this matter, Mr. Turner, and any and all other individuals, in any way referencing Mr. Turner.”
“Brandon Turner, as you know, is a county employee, and two commissioners took it upon themselves to make defamatory statements about him in connection with his employment,” Will told The Clayton Crescent. “And they made repeated accusations that he had been convicted of a felony when he had not been, and also insinuated that there had been improprieties in his hiring and that’s not true. We gave both commissioners an opportunity to retract those statements and apologize for those statements and they chose not to. Brandon Turner is a rank-and-file worker who should be able to go about his life without being subjected to these insults, which have caused a lot of pain for him and his family.”
READ: Cease and desist letters
Turner’s law firm sent The Clayton Crescent copies of letters it had sent to District 3 Commissioner Franklin and District 1 Commissioner Anderson prior to filing suit. The Clayton Crescent has not published copies of the suits on file at press time because the commissioners’ home addresses, which appear in the suits and are exempt from Georgia’s Open Records Act, had not been redacted. The letters were sent to the Board of Commissioners’ headquarters at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro, so are published here unredacted.
According to two separate suits filed Monday afternoon in Clayton County State Court, neither commissioner responded to the letter, nor to a September 13 follow-up letter.
Turner alleges that, starting in July 2022, both Anderson and Franklin “on numerous occasions both verbally and in writing, communicated to others the false statement that [Turner] was a ‘convicted felon,'” as well as “made false statements about [Turner] in connection with him being hired as an employee for Clayton County.”
The suits also allege that “the false statements about [Turner] were communicated by [Anderson and Franklin separately] to print and broadcast journalists in the hope that they would publish the false statements and cause further harm and damage to the Plaintiff.”
Turner is asking for a jury trial and seeking not only damages but punitive damages. Under Georgia law, punitive damages apply when a defendant’s actions “show willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression or the entire want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”
Similar anonymous allegations were made against Commissioner DeMont Davis during his reelection campaign. The Clayton Crescent went to Gwinnett County to pull Davis’ records while fact-checking the anonymous allegations. Those records showed a judge had exonerated Davis in a 2016 matter involving a payment dispute with an advertising firm.
Exoneration is offered to defendants who are first offenders who successfully complete their sentences. The law gives people a fresh start if they make a mistake. Under Georgia law, an exoneration means that the recipient shall not be considered to have been convicted of the charge or charges.
People who have been exonerated must go back to the court and petition if they want to have their records sealed. Otherwise, their case file (and the exoneration) remain public records. However, law enforcement officials can still see the charges and outcome.
The Clayton Crescent has asked both Anderson and Franklin to comment on the matter. Neither had responded by press time. We will update with any response.