Sheriff Darr claims records release was politically motivated

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr spent more than an hour and a half on the witness stand on Wednesday in the public records theft case against a former administrative assistant in his office.

Regina Millirons faces four counts of records theft and three counts each of accessing computers for fraud and computer theft in a 2011 allegation. The punishment for each count of records theft, if convicted, is one to 10 years in prison. The fraud charges carry a penalty of one to 15 years in prison on each count and up to a $50,000 fine.

Darr told the court he thought Millirons' release of personnel file information on four sheriff's office employees to her attorney Mark Shelnutt was politically motivated.

"What I believed was there were some individuals in our office that no longer wanted to see me in office," Darr told the court when Shelnutt asked if he believed Millirons was a troublemaker. "They were giving her the information. ... That is what I thought."

Darr also told the court that when he took office in 2009, he changed Millirons' duties. She had been the administrative assistant to former Sheriff Ralph Johnson, whom Darr defeated. He put her in an administrative position working with personnel files and payroll. He told the court the move was not a demotion.

"There was no change in pay or salary," he said.

Much of Darr's testimony centered around a 2010 meeting he had with Millirons in which she alleged issues in the department, including some involving Darr's assistant Tabitha Massey.

At times Darr was unclear on details about the meeting, but he recalled one of the allegations involved Massey holding a part-time college teaching position during her lunch hour.

Darr called for a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe. Millirons' defense tried to suppress a nearly two-hour interview she did with GBI Special Agent Deanna Jury on July 13, 2011.

Jury testified she never told Millirons she was the target of the investigation. It was a one-on-one interview with no attorney present, she said.

Judge Frank Jordan, after the GBI agent testified outside the presence of the jury, allowed the testimony in front of jurors.

"She did it freely and voluntarily," Jordan said, explaining his decision. Jury told the court the documents were "disseminated basically in violation of the Georgia Open Records Act." Millirons told the GBI agent that Shelnutt was representing her in a complaint against the sheriff.

The GBI investigation was completed on Aug. 17, 2011, and turned over to then-State Solicitor Ben Richardson, Jury testified. The solicitor's office prosecutes misdemeanors. The case was given to the district attorney.

Millirons was suspended by Darr on Aug. 2, 2011, without pay. The suspension was changed to with pay six days later. Millirons spent more than three years collecting her $40,737 annual salary before she was indicted on Oct. 21, 2014.

According to testimony, two of the four employees whose records were given to Shelnutt and ultimately Mayor Teresa Tomlinson testified they did not authorize Millirons to release the information. The other two are scheduled to testify today when the trial resumes.

Deputy Felix R. DaVila told the court he was upset his personal information and some information about his wife was given to Shelnutt.

"It's not a good feeling knowing as an officer of the law that my records are out there for anybody to grab -- especially my Social Security number," DaVila said.

Defense attorney William Kendrick tried to minimize the impact.

"Did Mrs. Millirons go get a credit card with you information? Did she take out a mortgage? Did she buy a car? Did she claim you on her taxes as a dependent?" Kendrick asked DaVila, who answered no to each question.

Moments later Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker was quick to respond.

"Is this a joke?" he asked DaVila.

"Not at all," the deputy responded.

Retired deputy Earl Williams, who has dealt with health issues, said he was told by Darr that information including his medical records had been improperly released by Millirons.

"I couldn't believe it," Williams said. "I was outraged my medical stuff in my personal file was just out there."

Earlier in the trial, Shelnutt told jurors that he had Millirons get the personnel records for him as they tried to expose mismanagement within the sheriff's office. His client had tried to go through the proper channels of city government to resolve the complaints she was getting, but got no cooperation, he said.