Suspended Worth Co. sheriff denied bond in eavesdropping case

Suspended Worth Co. sheriff denied bond in eavesdropping case
Suspended Sheriff Jeff Hobby was indicted Monday on 16 charges, including influencing witnesses. (Source: Lowndes County Jail)

WORTH CO., GA (WALB) - The suspended Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby will remain in jail following a bond hearing Friday afternoon that lasted for six hours.

The hearing centered around the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's investigation over a possible illegal recording device in the Worth County Jail.

Officials with the DA's office said Hobby is facing one count of violation of oath of office and the GBI confirmed Hobby faces 66 counts of eavesdropping and surveillance which invades the privacy of another individual. this comes after an investigation revealed that a recording device may have been installed in the attorney-client interview room at the Worth County Jail.

Many people who knew him on a personal level testified on Hobby's behalf. They spoke about his character, saying he follows the law. They also said they don't think he would be a danger if he was let out on bond. Many people even said they would sign the bond for him if necessary.

Prosecutors also had several witnesses they called to testify on Friday.

Some of them were former interim sheriff Bobby Sapp, GBI investigators, a sheriff's office employee and even the IT person who oversees the sheriff's office computer network.

Public defender Chauntilla Adaway is one of the attorneys listed in the warrants as a victim.

On Friday, she testified that she was not aware there were cameras in the attorney-client room recording her private conversations with clients.

"It pisses me off because it calls into question everything I have done over the past seven months and I have been getting constant calls from clients who didn't know there were cameras in those rooms who felt free to discuss their cases with me," explained Adaway.

Throughout the whole bond hearing, prosecutors referred to the room with the recording device in question as the attorney-client room at the jail. The defense referred to that as the intox room.

Sapp said he learned about the audio recording device in the interview room after getting an open records request from Hobby's attorney, asking for specific footage from the booking room of the jail the day Hobby was arrested. It was then that Sapp said he learned about the recording device. He testified that he also learned from a secretary that Hobby had previously asked to see the recording from a specific interview in the room.

"She did not name the person, she referred to him as Sheriff Hobby's son in reference to an interview he had been the subject of a GBI investigation," explained Sapp.

More testimony revealed someone may have tried to tamper with video or audio that was recorded.

"Sometime between March 3, and March 5, there was an attempt to delete the information on that jail DVR. And the question becomes who had the motive to attempt to do that?" asked Chief Assistant District Attorney J.D. Hart in her closing argument.

"It's important that we do pay attention to things like this because it is injustice and that's our job," said Benjamin Whidby, NAACP President.

Hobby had his first appearance for this case on Monday, March 12.

One of the attorneys representing suspended Hobby, in this case, withdrew on Wednesday after the GBI filed 12 additional warrants on the suspended sheriff.

Hobby remains in the Ben Hill County Jail.

Victims of the eavesdropping case

On Friday afternoon, attorneys met with the families of victims who think that their attorney-client rights may have been violated.

"I felt like it was wrong and violated him very much," said Tianne Williams Tilles, a family member of one of the victims that is incarcerated.

"Violated his privacy and I feel like it was very wrong and very low down and dirty and he should be punished for what he did," said Gussie Mooreson, another family member.

When the family heard that the NAACP and a group of lawyers were holding a meeting on Friday. they were eager to come.

"It was my duty to come here and be here for my husband to support him," said Tiles.

"We support him because they violated his rights and sometimes people don't know the law, but I know the law," explained Mooreson.

The discovery of that recording device calls into question dozens of cases prosecuted in Worth County from July 13, 2017, to February 26 of this year.

Now, each of those 66 cases are subject to be re-tried.

Adam, Jordan and Herrington P.C. out of Macon were there to lay out the families' options on how to move forward. Attorney Virgil Adams explained they have two situations.

"One is what impact this has had on their criminal case, there very well be some persons who were convicted based on some information that was learned during the eavesdropping process. What we're here about is representing these people on the civil side as violation of their civil rights as a set," said Adams.

The lawyers said there will be another meeting scheduled in the coming weeks for anyone else impacted by the investigation, but that date has not yet been set.

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