Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr says he's frustrated by the nearly 15 months it's taken authorities to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against a Sheriff's Office employee suspended last year amid an inquiry into the unauthorized release of protected employee information.
The employee, Regina Millirons, still receives nearly $40,000 a year in salary and has been on paid leave since her suspension in August 2011, according to city officials. Initial media reports of her suspension correctly noted she had been suspended without pay, but that personnel action was made in error and was quickly corrected to restore her compensation, pending the outcome of the investigation, said City Attorney Clifton C. Fay.
It has not previously been reported that Millirons is drawing a city salary from the sidelines, and Darr said last week that he found the situation "frustrating in the sense that I don't think people want to see that kind of stuff done."
"It's been disappointing that it's in the District Attorney's office and it's kind of sat there," he told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview. "They won't follow through on getting her charged."
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District Attorney Julia Slater "either needs to move forward with it, give it to somebody in (her) office to handle it or turn it back over to (Solicitor General) Ben Richardson," Darr added. Slater confirmed her office received an investigative report on Millirons and that charges are possible, but she said she hasn't had time to look into the case. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation delivered its case file to Slater's office on Aug. 17, 2011, said Wayne Smith, special agent in charge of the GBI's local office.
"It feels political to me to bring it up right now after this length of time," said Slater, a Democrat who is up for re-election next week. "I've got to look back at that case. I am in the middle of trying to do my job and serve the citizens of this circuit and also campaign for office in a contested race."
Darr, also a Democrat, reiterated his belief that Millirons broke the law when she provided -- or "leaked" -- documents to Mark Shelnutt last year while the Columbus attorney was compiling a list of concerns about Darr's administration. Shelnutt wrote to Mayor Teresa Tomlinson about the concerns and had gathered "supporting materials" that included at least one deputy's medical information and personnel records of other employees.
"I'm on the record as saying that she broke the law -- no doubt in my mind," Darr said of Millirons. "I don't have time to dwell forever on something like this. We need to move forward: either let's take care of it and do something with it, or let's not."
Shelnutt, who represents Millirons, said he was surprised to learn of the GBI inquiry into Millirons' actions, contending he had been gathering the documents at the behest of city officials.
"Regina Millirons didn't do anything wrong," Shelnutt said. "That's what's so horrible about it. Regina was telling what was going on wrong over there."
Millirons had been suspended without pay but "got a knock on her door and was served with a letter saying it was changed to 'with pay'" a couple days later, Shelnutt said. "It's obviously not of her desire," he said of the suspension. "She loves her work. She loves her job."
Millirons is paid about $39,542 a year, said Tom Barron, the city's director of human resources. Slater on Tuesday initially said that the Millirons case is "not my decision alone."
"The potential crimes here could be misdemeanor or felony," she said. "It's not squarely in the District Attorney's Office ... I don't take the action if there's a determination that there are misdemeanors."
But Richardson, who handles local misdemeanors, said his office evaluated the Millirons case in August 2011 and consulted with the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, which determined the circumstances called for a felony computer invasion of privacy charge. "That's when Chuck Olson, the general counsel, said that this should be a felony," Richardson said Tuesday. "As far as I know it's still with Mrs. Slater."
According to Richardson, the computer invasion of privacy charge prohibits the use of a computer for the purposes of "examining any employment, medical, salary, credit, or any other financial or personal data relating to any other person with knowledge that such examination is without authority." Asked whether the case should have been expedited given Millirons' status on leave, Slater said, "Right now I am trying to do my job and I am campaigning to keep my job and I have not had time to look into this. I just can't answer these questions.
"We're seven days away from the election," she added. "It seems like a very peculiar time for this to be coming up when it's been pending for quite some time."
Slater's Republican opponent, Mark C. Post, likened the delays to the case of a Columbus police officer, Vincent Lockhart Jr., who is making $36,656 a year on administrative leave and has been suspended since he fatally shot an alleged bank robber and a bystander in September 2011. Slater hasn't yet determined whether to pursue charges in that case either. "It's one of several cases that have just sat there with no decision," Post said, "and it's costing the taxpayers money."