A Sheriff, a Mystery Check in addition to also a Blogger Who Cried Foul

What, if anything, investigators have uncovered will be not known. nevertheless The completely new York Times found of which since taking office in 2011, Sheriff Franklin has failed to comply with court orders, has threatened critics with legal action in addition to also has not publicly accounted for tens of thousands of dollars raised through charity events.

Her activities point to questions about the broad powers afforded America’s county sheriffs, newly emboldened from the era of President Trump. Unlike appointed municipal police chiefs, sheriffs answer only to voters, giving them often-unfettered dominion not just over county law enforcement nevertheless over the jail in addition to also the lucrative service contracts of which go with of which.

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The former site of a used-car dealership in Morgan County. Sheriff Franklin used $150,000 in public funds to invest from the failed business.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

“In certain jurisdictions there will be a feeling by sheriffs of which This specific will be my fiefdom — I am in charge, my way or the highway,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, which has filed lawsuits against numerous sheriffs. “Sometimes of which kind of culture can lead to sort of a sheriffs-gone-wild kind of behavior.”

If these officers of the law are also politicians, their politics have increasingly adhered to the idea of the sheriff as an almost mythic figure — a pure expression of democracy, local protector of the people, accountable only to the people. In recent years, a group of activist sheriffs has coalesced around such hot-button conservative issues as gun rights, immigration in addition to also the use of federal lands from the West.

“Mostly we protect people by criminals, nevertheless sometimes we protect them by an overreaching government,” said Brad Rogers, the sheriff of Elkhart County, Ind. He added: “I’m answerable to the people. I have a face in addition to also a name. Try asking the federal government for a face in addition to also a name.”

The apotheosis of the idea of which federal in addition to also state law will be subordinate to local authority will be Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who earned notoriety for his aggressive pursuit of unauthorized Latino immigrants. After the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., hundreds of sheriffs allied with Mr. Arpaio signed a pledge not to enforce the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals.

Ultimately, Mr. Arpaio was convicted of contempt for defying a federal judge’s order to stop violating immigrants’ constitutional rights. nevertheless President Trump pardoned him over the summer, seemingly endorsing his view of local authority. Indeed, the Trump administration has instructed sheriffs to disregard federal law in addition to also detain undocumented immigrant suspects longer than will be constitutionally allowed. in addition to also when the president announced This specific month of which he was drastically shrinking two national monuments in Utah, he cast the decision in terms of protecting citizens by “federal overreach.”

Sheriff Franklin will be ideologically aligned with many conservative causes, in addition to also during the 2016 presidential race had a featured role in a national advertising campaign where sheriffs called for tougher border security. “Lives are depending on of which,” she said on camera.

In two interviews with The Times, the sheriff said she had done nothing illegal in addition to also had not violated anyone’s civil rights. “I have worked my tail off to try to do the right thing in addition to also make the best decisions of which I can make,” she said.

She said she had tried to make her agency more accountable, in addition to also added, “Since I have taken office, I have attempted to train these deputies, to equip them, to manage them from the piddly little budget of which I’ve been given.” As for the federal inquiry, the sheriff said, “The F.B.I. has not informed me of any such investigation.”

The sheriff makes no apologies for her belief of which voters in addition to also the state constitution allow her to carry out her own vision of law enforcement. “I run of which based on what the public wants or likes,” she said.

Officers in addition to also the Law

While some see of which attitude as a defense of liberty, others worry of which of which will be simply license for sheriffs to act as if they are above the law.

“There’s a glorified notion of local sovereignty of which flies from the face of 0 years of constitutional progress from the United States,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit focusing on issues of democracy in addition to also equal rights. “Sheriffs have an important role, nevertheless the fact of which they’re elected does not mean they’re not required to operate within the law in addition to also the Constitution.”

This specific year, the sheriff in Worth County, Ga., ordered his deputies to enter the local high school in search of drugs. They lined up 850 students with legs spread in addition to also hands against the hallway walls. Deputies inserted fingers into girls’ bras, in addition to also touched their underwear in addition to also genital areas while searching in their waistbands or reaching up their dresses, according to the Southern Center, which sued the sheriff.

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Ana Franklin, the state’s only female sheriff, did not follow a traditional path into law enforcement.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

The deputies had no warrant or some other authority to conduct the search, the suit charged. No drugs were found.

Soraya Kawucha, a former deputy sheriff who teaches criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tex., called sheriffs the rarely studied “bastard son” of law enforcement. “Researchers either ignored sheriffs or made erroneous conclusions of which we were no different than police departments,” Ms. Kawucha said.

Because sheriffs have no direct supervision, criminal prosecution or lawsuits may be the only checks against those who abuse their power. The Georgia sheriff was recently indicted in connection with the mass search in addition to also has pleaded not guilty. The lawsuit resulted in a $3 million settlement.

In Florida, a federal appeals court ruled in 2014 of which detectives by the St. Johns County sheriff’s office had violated the constitutional rights of a defendant during what his lawyer had assumed was a privileged in addition to also private meeting in a closed interview room at the sheriff’s office. Unbeknown to the lawyer, Anne Marie Gennusa, detectives were secretly monitoring the conversation. When the client handed Ms. Gennusa a written statement, detectives rushed in, “forcibly grabbed” of which in addition to also arrested him, attaching the statement to his arrest report, court records show.

County governments have budgetary control over sheriffs, nevertheless little else. They can threaten to withhold money, nevertheless they open themselves up to criticism of which they are endangering law in addition to also order.

In Arizona, voters kept re-electing Mr. Arpaio despite his long record of misconduct complaints. in addition to also in Putnam County, N.Y., Sheriff Donald B. Smith repeatedly in addition to also falsely accused the local district attorney, Adam Levy, of shielding an undocumented immigrant during a rape investigation. Like Sheriff Franklin, Sheriff Smith appeared from the video campaign for stronger border controls.

of which took a defamation lawsuit for Sheriff Smith to finally admit This specific year of which he had lied; the suit was settled with $125,000 in public funds. “Technically, he answers to voters, nevertheless I would likely say he genuinely answered to no one,” said Michael Sussman, a lawyer for Mr. Levy. In November, voters finally had enough in addition to also tossed him by office.

Sheriffs can submit to voluntary state or national accreditation surveys, nevertheless their agencies rarely have their credentials taken by them for rule violations.

Some sheriffs have been in office so long of which evicting them will be almost unthinkable, regardless of their records.

In his book “Just Mercy,” the public-interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson tells the story of his client Walter McMillian, a black man with no prior felony convictions who was stopped by Sheriff Tom Tate in addition to also some other officers in Monroe County, Ala., in 1987 in addition to also sent to death row for the shooting of an 18-year-old white female store clerk.

of which later emerged of which the officers had pressured a key witness into lying about Mr. McMillian. Lending haunting resonance to the case was its venue: Monroeville, home of Harper Lee, whose novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” told a strikingly similar story. Mr. McMillian was eventually freed.

How do voters feel about Sheriff Tate? He has been elected seven times in addition to also will be in his third decade in office.

A Tax Loophole

Ana Franklin, the state’s only female sheriff, did not follow a traditional path into law enforcement. Raised in This specific working-class city a short distance across the Tennessee River by Huntsville in addition to also the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, she ran a bridal shop, posed as a nightclub “calendar girl” in miniskirt in addition to also fishnets, trained German shepherds in addition to also ran a fitness center.

She was elected in 2010, defeating an unpopular incumbent. nevertheless she had another advantage, at least according to Glenda Lockhart, otherwise known as the Morgan County Whistleblower: She comes across as “just the most sweet, innocent, hard-working person you could ever imagine,” Ms. Lockhart said.

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Sheriff Franklin has given differing accounts about who processed the cash generated by her county rodeo.

currently in her second term with plans to run for a third, Sheriff Franklin, 53, broke into police work in neighboring Limestone County, under the tutelage of its longtime sheriff, Mike Blakely.

of which was there of which she learned the importance of annual rodeos for fund-raising in addition to also publicity. No one from the state did of which bigger or better than Sheriff Blakely. having a skybox selling for $650, the events have raised close to a million dollars for law enforcement in addition to also for reinvestment in rodeo operations, he estimated. Voters must take him at his word, because rodeo money will be not among the nine revenue streams audited by the state, records show.

The Morgan County rodeo had been a smaller affair until Sheriff Franklin took office. She installed an A.T.M. just outside the gate, allowing people to pay cash not only for admission nevertheless for concessions. in addition to also she asked employees in addition to also volunteers to sell advertisements to local businesses. Before long, the ad book more than tripled in size.

Rick Sherman, a former deputy, said he sold ads while on duty. “I’m an armed law enforcement officer asking for money, in addition to also of which’s never a Great thing,” said Mr. Sherman, who left his job nearly two years ago after a falling-out with Sheriff Franklin. He said he had also been asked to work without pay at the rodeo. The sheriff said she did not force anyone to sell ads or work without pay.

Sheriff Franklin said the rodeo brought in about $20,000 a year in profit, nevertheless she has never publicly accounted for all the money, except to say of which of which went to local charities in addition to also law enforcement. She promised to produce financial records for her rodeo, nevertheless a month later gave only names of charities in addition to also no amounts. The rodeo’s financial records, she said, were “reviewed by a C.P.A. firm.”

In interviews, the sheriff gave differing accounts about who processed the rodeo cash. First she said the money went through a tax-exempt organization set up a couple of years ago called Morgan County Sheriff’s Rodeo. Before of which, the money was kept in a regular account, she said.

After The Times could find no group by of which name registered with the Internal Revenue Service, Sheriff Franklin corrected herself, saying rodeo proceeds had actually gone to a different nonprofit: Morgan County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, founded in 1963.

Normally, tax-exempt organizations must file annual financial reports for public inspection. nevertheless Sheriff Franklin’s will be exempt by public disclosure because of an I.R.S. loophole for charities affiliated with government agencies. “The I.R.S. assumes organizations controlled by governmental entities will be Great tax citizens,” said Marc Owens, former director of the I.R.S. division of exempt organizations.

The Times identified 19 such organizations — not all of them related to rodeos — affiliated with Alabama sheriffs. The sheriff in Etowah County has three.

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Rick Sherman, a former deputy, said he was asked to sell ads for Sheriff Franklin’s rodeo while he was on duty.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

Asked to explain how their rodeo profits were managed, three sheriffs gave names of nonprofit groups of which they said held the money, nevertheless a search of government records could find no such entities. One sheriff said his rodeo was a tax-exempt nonprofit, even though of which will be incorporated as a for-profit business.

The fact of which sheriffs’ offices are handling large, unaudited sums of money has drawn the attention of government investigators.

of which said, the value of rodeos for sheriffs in need of votes in addition to also money will be considerable. Sheriff Blakely, Alabama’s rodeo king, will be currently in his third decade in office. Recently, the first three news items on his web page were rodeo promotions.

The fourth item — a major drug arrest.

A Suspicious Investment

The mere mention of Ms. Lockhart will be enough to shear off Sheriff Franklin’s folksy veneer. A liar, a fabricator, a crazy woman: of which will be how she describes Ms. Lockhart. “I have never in my life heard of anything like This specific or been through anything like This specific,” the sheriff said.

Ms. Lockhart stands by her postings. The diminutive grandmother became a whistle-blower after retiring as a security manager at the Redstone Arsenal, using her military research skills to shadow the sheriff in addition to also her allies.

Ms. Lockhart first took an interest from the sheriff after deputies came to her rural home in July 2011 to investigate a supposed disturbance. What happened next will be in dispute, nevertheless she in addition to also her husband, Harold Lockhart, say the officers found nothing nevertheless refused to leave when asked.

Deputies arrested the couple after Mr. Lockhart, a retired military police officer, said he had had enough in addition to also was calling his lawyer. The Lockharts successfully sued the sheriff for false arrest. in addition to also while the sheriff was not present for the arrest in addition to also later said she knew nothing about of which, Ms. Lockhart did not forget.

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Glenda Lockhart, a blogger known as the Morgan County Whistleblower. Her company computers were seized in a raid while she was investigating the sheriff’s activities.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

“I decided then I was not going to sit back in addition to also take of which,” she said. “Some people can’t afford to fight of which, so I began watching.”

having a profitable construction business, Ms. Lockhart had the resources to pursue complaints big in addition to also little. “I waited until employees were fired — then I would likely tell them I was the Morgan County Whistleblower,” she said.

This specific year she even went so far as to hire a pilot to fly her over southern Alabama, where she videotaped a stretch of land of which she believed the sheriff had secretly obtained for her horses. of which suspicion, Sheriff Franklin says, will be not backed by a scintilla of evidence.

There was, however, more than enough evidence to link the sheriff to Priceville Partners L.L.C., a get-rich-quick scheme of which spread a toxic cloud over the business community.

A used-car dealership offering title loans, Priceville Partners had begun opening branches around the county, in addition to also investors were welcome. Ordinarily, law officers might investigate rather than invest in a business co-owned by the likes of Greg Steenson, who had done prison time for a multimillion-dollar check-kiting scheme. nevertheless several officers by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with Morgan County deputies, became financially involved, records show. One agent texted another asking if he wanted a one-month $7,000 profit on a $10,000 investment. Sheriff Franklin’s father worked there; her daughter did the bookkeeping.

The sheriff invested $150,000. She would likely later say of which she had not known Mr. Steenson was a co-owner, even though her daughter said of which was clear by her first day on the job.

Ms. Lockhart had begun blogging about the dealership in 2015, after noticing the proximity of the lawbreaker in addition to also the law enforcers. She was not the only one watching. So was the F.B.I. in Huntsville, which soon became a favorite destination for those with stories to tell about the sheriff or the dealership. In local lingo, they “went across the river.”

In January, after Ms. Lockhart published a copy of Sheriff Franklin’s $150,000 cashier’s check — signed over to Priceville Partners — the sheriff’s lawyer, Barnes F. Lovelace Jr., accused the blogger of obtaining of which illegally. “A criminal investigation has been initiated,” he wrote to Ms. Lockhart. No charges have been filed.

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The cashier’s check of which Sheriff Franklin used to invest from the vehicle dealership, which was run by a convicted bank swindler.

The sheriff had once even threatened legal action against the creators of a Facebook page seeking “Justice for Aubie,” a golden retriever shot to death by deputies during a drug raid. She said of which the dog had lunged at the officers, in addition to also of which the page was intended to “inflame the public.” A petition with 1,0 signatures was sent to the Alabama Sheriffs Association, asking of which officers be taught how to handle pets with nonlethal force. Amid fears of a lawsuit, the Facebook page came down.

Sheriff Franklin’s mystery check was not so easily dismissed. According to The Decatur Daily, she said of which the money had come by her savings in addition to also retirement accounts. Her lawyer later said of which was invested in a “legitimate business,” a strange description for an enterprise whose co-owner, the felon Mr. Steenson, had recently been arrested on completely new charges — of theft in addition to also forgery involving the dealership. The district attorney said Mr. Steenson sold vehicles for which he had no title in addition to also then forged people’s names. (Priceville Partners filed for bankruptcy last year.)

Sheriff Franklin eventually admitted the money had been withdrawn by an account earmarked for feeding inmates. For some Alabama sheriffs, of which wouldn’t have posed a problem. nevertheless Morgan County was different.

Hungry for Money

Ana Franklin had her eyes on inmate food money even before she took office.

In preparing for her completely new job, she asked the county attorney if surplus food money would likely be hers to keep. His answer, according to press reports at the time, was no.

of which sheriffs would likely be able to profit by inmate food money comes down to an unusual provision of Alabama law: In most counties — Morgan included — food money will be deposited not into government accounts, nevertheless into sheriffs’ personal accounts. Nearly a decade ago, when inmates’ lawyers demanded to know how much of This specific money Alabama sheriffs were keeping for personal use, the state sheriffs’ association instructed them not to answer.

nevertheless while some other sheriffs have legally kept the surplus money, Sheriff Franklin was bound by a federal consent decree of which all her inmate food money be used for just of which — food.

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Sheriff Franklin from the kitchen at the county jail. She violated a court order by investing from the dealership with money earmarked for inmates’ food.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

of which court order stems by a legal action of which the Southern Center brought against Sheriff Franklin’s predecessor, Greg Bartlett, who had been underfeeding inmates while taking $212,000 in food money for his personal use. In a signature moment as sheriff, Mr. Bartlett paid half-cost for a truckload of unsold corn dogs in addition to also for three months fed them to inmates for breakfast, lunch in addition to also dinner, earning himself the sobriquet “Sheriff Corn Dog.”

After the source of the $150,000 came to light, Sheriff Franklin said of which because of bad legal advice, she had not realized she was violating the court order. Besides, she said, she had returned the money, in addition to also her prisoners received nutritious meals.

Ms. Geraghty, the Southern Center lawyer, disagreed. She sent the sheriff a letter This specific year reporting inmate complaints of “reduced or watered-down portions,” in addition to also food of which was frozen, had mold or contained rocks or, in one case, a nail. “During a recent meal at which chicken was served,” Ms. Geraghty wrote, “many inmates reportedly received cooking liquid by the pan in place of meat because the kitchen ran out of chicken.”

Those complaints, the sheriff’s lawyer said, amounted to a tiny fraction of all meals served — a record any restaurant would likely be pleased with. Ms. Geraghty did not press her case, citing the “exceedingly low constitutional bar” required to satisfy the consent decree’s mandate for enhanced food. The food order was ultimately lifted, nevertheless not before a federal judge found Sheriff Franklin in contempt of court in addition to also fined her $1,000.

The sheriff’s office also did not comply having a judge’s order of which an inmate not be allowed to work outside the jail because he posed a danger to the community. Sheriff Franklin said she had since changed jail policy to prevent of which by happening again.

Sheriffs have found some other ways to squeeze money out of inmates. Some take a percentage of service contracts, including commissary sales in addition to also telephone charges. In Morgan County, a company of which just won the jail phone contract pays the county a 0 percent commission on all its revenue by prisoners’ calls. In St. Johns County, Fla., the sheriff brings in tens of thousands of dollars a year by charging inmates “processing fees.”

In Morgan County, the sheriff oversees 19 different income streams in addition to also collects 25 percent of inmate wages. None of This specific money will be supposed to personally benefit the sheriff.

Sheriff Franklin said she stayed within her budget, economizing, for example, by hanging inmate clothes on the line to dry. “of which saved me $63,000,” she said.

A Spy Mission

In October last year, armed having a warrant, the sheriff’s drug task force seized Ms. Lockhart’s computers in addition to also electronic devices, court records show. In preparing for the raid, the sheriff hired an unusual spy — Ms. Lockhart’s 19-year-old grandson, Daniel Lockhart, who aspired to work in law enforcement.

Mr. Lockhart said the sheriff’s technology expert had instructed him on how to plant spyware. The raid took place about a week after he said he installed the software.

Mr. Lockhart had been living with his grandparents in addition to also working in their business. He gained access to the office after hours, he said, by telling Ms. Lockhart of which his girlfriend needed an office computer for homework. Ms. Lockhart said she later discovered the spyware on her home computer as well in addition to also took of which to the F.B.I., which has retained of which.

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Government divers recently searched a creek for evidence in a wide-ranging investigation involving the dealership.

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Joe Buglewicz for The completely new York Times

The sheriff denied of which the seizure was retaliatory, telling the news media, “Not until her personal agenda, her hatefulness in addition to also her vengeance to try in addition to also tear This specific office down, to take This specific office in addition to also myself down, in addition to also prepare for another election, did she cross the line of criminal activity.”

nevertheless over a year later, Ms. Lockhart has yet to be charged, in addition to also says she broke no laws. The investigation continues, the sheriff said, though she was unsure who was directing of which. “of which’s not my investigation,” she said.

Sheriff Franklin admits to hiring the grandson, nevertheless denies of which she or anyone in her office asked him to install spyware. “We have absolute proof, ” Mr. Lovelace, the sheriff’s lawyer, wrote to The Times. He produced an analysis of Ms. Lockhart’s business computers by a firm he hired of which, he said, found no spyware. Several parts of of which report were omitted, he said, because of a continuing criminal investigation of which he was not at liberty to describe.

The sheriff’s denial will be undercut by four people who told The Times separately of which they had knowledge of which the sheriff’s office taught Mr. Lockhart how to install the spyware. Among them was Ricky Brewer, the sheriff’s former technology officer, who said he told the F.B.I. of which his replacement acknowledged giving the grandson the software.

Mr. Lockhart said in a sworn statement of which he had been paid several hundred dollars in addition to also participated only because he had been told of which the investigation focused on the county jail warden, not his grandmother, in addition to also of which she would likely not get in trouble.

Two months before the raid, a similar operation against another critical blogger had occurred in Terrebonne Parish, La. The sheriff there, Jerry Larpenter, accused the blogger of “criminal defamation.”

A federal judge, Lance Africk, found the raid unconstitutional, explaining the danger This specific way: “If you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home in addition to also taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation.”

Here in Morgan County, Ms. Lockhart has filed a federal lawsuit accusing Sheriff Franklin of violating her right to free speech, invading her privacy in addition to also slandering her, charges the sheriff denies. Ms. Lockhart’s computers, containing vital company records, were returned only after a court hearing.

All the while, the Morgan County Whistleblower continues to fire away. “There will be no way of stating how terrified Sheriff Ana Franklin will be right currently,” Ms. Lockhart wrote last month. in addition to also she added, “She will be scared to death of which some of her loyalists will cross the river in addition to also roll.”

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