DECATUR, AL (WAFF) - Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin has responded to a lawsuit against her and her deputies. During a press conference on Wednesday, Franklin denied they did anything illegal in the investigation into a blogger who's suing her and others.
Franklin addressed information published by WAFF 48's news partners at the Decatur Daily about a sworn deposition given by Daniel Lockhart of Falkville, in which he said he was paid to hack his grandmother's computers. He says he was then called him to a tense, late-night meeting with Franklin in her office once the FBI found out about it.
His grandmother, Glenda Lockhart, runs the MorganCountyWhistleblower blog, which is highly critical of Franklin and some of her deputies.
Franklin fired warden Leon Bradley in October for allegedly passing on confidential sheriff's office information that ended up on that blog. Computers at Glenda Lockhart's business were seized during a raid.
Franklin confirmed that Lockhart was paid as an informant in the investigation as part of his agreement with the Morgan County Drug Task Force, and said the investigation into his grandmother is not political payback.
"Nothing was ever done in retaliation to Ms. Lockhart during the number of years that this blog has gone on. Not until her personal agenda, her hatefulness and her vengeance to try and tear this office down, to take this office and myself down, and prepare for another election, did she cross the line of criminal activity," Franklin said. "Citizens are able to have their opinion. They're able to exercise their rights. They're able to discuss freely their opinions politically and personally about me and my office. But they are not able to take criminal actions against this office or any other citizen without being held accountable."
Lockhart claims a Morgan County corrections officer gave him keylogging software and told him to install it on his grandmother's computers, then give the deputy the passwords it collected. Less than a week later, his grandmother's business was raided by Morgan County investigators.
Judge Glenn Thompson signed a warrant allowing the seizure of the computers.
Glenda Lockhart's lawsuit claims the sheriff's office violated her First Amendment rights.
Franklin said Lockhart, Bradley and possibly others broke the law. She said they haven't been charged yet because of the time it takes to sort out digital data evidence.
According to the deposition obtained by our news partners at the Decatur Daily, Lockhart says deputies promised him thousands of dollars for the information in September. He claims he was paid $300 by one deputy, and $200 by another. Lockhart was an employee at his grandmother's business and says he snuck into the building after hours to install the software.
After installing the keylogging software, Lockhart claims he gave the deputies the passwords they wanted. A few days later, on October 5th, Morgan County investigators raided Glenda Lockhart's business and seized the computers.
Lockhart says the FBI contacted him about the incident the same day. Lockhart's business has federal contracts. He claims he told federal agents about the spyware. Two days later, Lockhart claims he was summoned to Franklin's office for a tense, late-night, hour-long meeting where Franklin asked him about his conversations with the FBI.
Glenda Lockhart's lawsuit claims that the computers seized from her office were returned two weeks later, badly damaged an inoperable. Lockhart claims that caused her problems operating her business effectively.
Franklin denies the allegations. In October, Franklin told us that the raid on Lockhart's business was part of a criminal investigation and had nothing to do with the blog. As of December 7th, the blog was still up and running with recent posts. Interestingly, in its response to the lawsuit, the Morgan County Sheriff's Office claims that even if the allegations were true, they don't violate any wiretapping laws, and the Sheriff would have governmental immunity anyway.
You can read much more about this story now on our news partner's site DecaturDaily.com.
Copyright 2016 WAFF. All rights reserved.