The state Attorney General’s office could decide within two weeks whether to investigate Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner.
Turner, who has been in office for 20 years, is accused of trying to intimidate a former employee who was campaigning for one of Turner’s opponents in the July 31 election. The employee caught the incident on tape.
District Attorney Pete Skandalakis said Monday afternoon he has recused himself from deciding whether Turner’s intimidation was illegal but did ask the attorney general to appoint another prosecutor.
“I have recused myself and this office from answering/interpreting the question regarding Sheriff Turner and if his actions violated OCGA 21-2-567,” the district attorney said. “The basis of my recusal is due to my close personal and professional relationship with Sheriff Turner and, therefore, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to weigh in on this matter. I have asked the Attorney General to appoint another prosecutor to answer the question.”
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said the prosecutor could be appointed within two weeks, but also could not comment on whether what Turner did was illegal.
The Georgia legal code for intimidation of electors, OCGA 21-2-567, reads as follows:
O.C.G.A. 21-2-567 (2010)
21-2-567. Intimidation of electors
(a) Any person who uses or threatens to use force and violence, or acts in any other manner to intimidate any other person, to:
(1) Vote or refrain from voting at any primary or election, or to vote or refrain from voting for or against any particular candidate or question submitted to electors at such primary or election; or
(2) Place or refrain from placing his or her name upon a register of electors
shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or to pay a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, or both.
(b) As used in this Code section, the term “acts in any other manner to intimidate” means to undertake or pursue a knowing and willful course of conduct which causes emotional distress by placing another person in reasonable fear for such person’s safety or for the safety of another person and which serves no legitimate purpose.
Former sheriff’s investigator John Whitney, who know is head of safety and security at West Georgia Health, said he was out campaigning for James Woodruff, Turner’s opponent, on July 5 when he was approached by Turner in a Troup County neighborhood. Turner contacted Whitney later that night and threatened his job if Whitney continued campaigning for Woodruff.
“I just want to let you know up front, tomorrow I’ll be talking to Jerry Fulks tomorrow and I’m going to do all I can to get rid of your ass the next time, OK?” Turner is heard saying, in part, on the tape.
In an email to LaGrange Daily News, Turner blamed his actions on being hurt seeing his former colleague campaign for someone else.
“It deeply hurt and saddens me that someone whom I had considered to be my friend. A person whom I have given endless support to, would be trying to remove me from my job!” the message said, in part.
“In the ‘heat of the battle,’ I did call Mr. Whitney to express my disappointment,” Turner said. “I further reminded him that I was instrumental in helping him with his career. Knowing that I had supported him 100 percent in his duties at West Georgia Health Systems, I was completely hurt and realized that I had obviously recommended the wrong man for the job. Therefore, I informed him that I would be speaking with Mr. Fulks at West Georgia Health Systems.”