The motions, filed by attorneys McCracken Poston, David Dunn, Steve Ellis and Shawn Bible, allege that prosecutors with the district attorney’s office are holding back information by giving “false or incomplete” evidence about the FBI’s Northwest Georgia Crimes Against Children Task Force, specifically instances in which untrained and uncertified civilians may have been allowed to participate in such undercover capacities.
“It’s very troubling when you’re working on a case, and you aren’t given all the information,” said David Dunn, lead public defender for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, which includes Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties.
The task force has fallen under intense scrutiny over the past few weeks after it was learned that the operation’s leader, FBI special agent Ken Hillman, allegedly abused his power over the past two years by influencing local officers to look the other way during instances where he was pulled over on suspicion of drinking and driving.
One such incident resulted in the firing of then-Ringgold police sergeant Tom Evans in mid-February for giving Hillman and two women a ride out of state while he was apparently intoxicated instead of arresting him during an Oct. 24 call.
Evans also did not file a report of the incident with his department, at Hillman’s request.
Evans began working under Hillman as a member of the task force around the time of the incident, but to this point, it has never been clarified whether Evans was awarded a spot on the task force for cutting Hillman a break, or if he was already a member of force who was simply covering for his supervisor.
One of the women in that case, Angela Russell, admitted during a police investigation that she participated in undercover operations with the task force and accompanied Hillman during the busts of the child predators.
The task force is a unit made up officers from different local agencies that look to catch people online that respond to ads and chats for the purposes of having sexual encounters with children.
Task force agents post the ads on such websites as Craigslist, arrange meetings with the would-be offenders who think they are meeting with children, and then arrest the suspects on child sex charges at the designated meeting place.
According to Ringgold attorney McCracken Poston, who represents clients in some of the cases in question, Russell is never mentioned in any of the evidence that has been shared with them by the district attorney’s office, and does not appear on any of the arrest indictments as a member of the task force.
If Russell did indeed participate in such operations, it could affect the evidence in some of the 17 attempted child molestation cases currently on the trial docket.
“The officers that work on tasks forces like this are specially trained in how to communicate with targets,” Poston said last week. “Private citizens should not be communicating with possible suspects in an undercover operation. If they are, then it certainly raises a lot of questions about the credibility of the operation.”
In Monday’s motions, it was also requested that the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit recuse itself from hearing any of the cases.
“Our biggest concern is with the discovery process,” Dunn said. “We want to know all the correct information, and we’re hoping to get to the bottom of everything. Right now, we don’t feel like we’ve been made aware of everything.”
Attorneys also requested to examine all the computers used by task force members during communication with the accused defendants in the cases.
District attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin didn’t return calls Wednesday morning seeking comment on the matter, but he did say in an interview last week that he didn’t see foresee the recent revelations surrounding Hillman affecting or “jeopardizing” any of the cases that involve charges filed by the task force.
The working relationship between the district attorney’s office and the child task force could present a conflict of interest if prosecutors were ever called to testify as to what they knew about the operations of the task force.
Tom Evans’ wife Beth Evans is an assistant district attorney with the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit in Walker County.