In October, Creative Loafing was able to view the now-confidential internal affairs file outlining possible abuse of Al-Amin, the former Black Panther awaiting trial on charges that he murdered a Fulton County deputy. The sheriff's department has since deemed the file unfit for release and would not allow CL to receive promised photocopies.
The file was lumped in with 60 others, which CL was allowed to view in response to an Open Records request. All but the Al-Amin documents were eventually released -- and the pages revealed how certain Fulton cops drove drunk, beat inmates until their eardrums burst and were able to keep their jobs. Those deputies were the subject of a Nov. 28 CL cover story.
Now, a Fulton Superior Court judge has said she'll review the Al-Amin investigation to see if the sheriff's department's secrecy is within reason.
"I'm going to have to reserve ruling and read the file first," Judge Stephanie B. Manis said during a Dec. 11 hearing.
The sheriff's department is arguing that the documents in question fall within a list of items Judge Manis previously ruled unfit for release to the public.
But the judge's order -- filed in relation to Al-Amin's upcoming murder trial -- doesn't necessarily apply to a separate incident in which Al-Amin was the alleged victim.
The order aims to prevent attorneys and state and federal investigators from talking to the press about "the character, reputation, writings, background or prior criminal record of the defendant." It also states that attorneys and investigators can discuss neither the credibility and identity of witnesses, nor the possibility of Al-Amin entering a guilty plea.
Nothing in the judge's order indicates that a county investigation of an unrelated incident should be protected.
Still, Manis said the release of the file could jeopardize the trial because it might give the public the idea that Fulton law enforcement has a particular attitude toward Al-Amin.
"I'm really not interested in the underlying open records issue," Manis said. "I'm only interested in the monitoring of a high-profile case."
At the close of the hearing, the judge told county attorney Paula Nash, who represents the sheriff's department, not to release any of the 83 requested pages of the Al-Amin file "unless you have been previously advised by the court to do so."
The day before the hearing, however, Nash released to CL's attorney 15 pages from the file -- including a transcribed interview between internal affairs Lt. Teresa Williams and sheriff's Deputy Dwayne Bolden. The rest of the file contains transcripts of at least seven other interviews, including one with Al-Amin, as well as internal affairs' observations and findings.
Little of the released interview has to do with Al-Amin. Lt. Williams mostly questions the deputy about his treatment of another inmate, a friend of Al-Amin's named Dabou Abdulaziz.
"Did you make any threatening remarks to Mr. Dabou Abdulaziz about Jamil El-Amin [sic]?" Williams asked.
"No," Deputy Bolden answered.
"Did you make the statement to Mr. Dabou Abdulaziz, 'We owe you one'?"
Bolden told the investigator he remembers Abdulaziz saying, "I know your address. I know where you live." Bolden claimed to have answered: "When you come to my house, I'm gon' even the score."
The sheriff's department suspended Bolden for a day for making that remark, according to another page of the file released to CL.
It wasn't his first reprimand.
According to an internal affairs report into one of nine cases of Bolden's alleged abuse, 16 inmates witnessed a March 1999 attack during which the deputy choked an inmate "to the point of lifting him off the floor."
When an internal affairs investigator asked Bolden if he was mad at the inmate, the deputy answered, "I wasn't mad, because if I was, I would have hit him. And I wasn't angry, because if I was, I would have slammed him to the ground."
Internal affairs concluded that Bolden "knowingly submitted an incident report which contained untrue statements and omissions of relevant facts." He was punished with a written warning.
In addition to the contents of the confidential file, Judge Manis said other documents exist concerning alleged mistreatment of Al-Amin -- a transcript from a March court hearing.
But that document remains, as of now, confidential.
"It doesn't mean that you will never be able to view it," the judge said. "Until we finish the [criminal] case, it remains under seal."
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