A closed security video from inside the Claxton Police Department that was retrieved by an unauthorized source has resulted in an investigation by the GBI.
TheGeorgiaVirtue.com spoke with Mayor Branch on Wednesday morning. Branch said the video was provided to him and Mayor Pro Tem Larry Anderson by City Attorney Bill Callaway who supposedly ‘found’ the USB drive on December 19. He explained that the video showed Claxton Police Chief Dale Kirkland walking into the police department earlier that month with ‘large bags of candy.’ At that time, a dispatcher was seen getting up to help ‘bag the candy for distribution.’ Branch said Kirkland later posted pictures on Facebook in a parade in Cobbtown, but no candy was seen in the photos.
Kirkland is running for Sheriff in neighboring Tattnall County against incumbent Kyle Sapp.
During a called council meeting on December 20, Branch said the council was told about the video by the City Attorney in closed session, but it was not shown to them. Still, he says, only Branch, Anderson, and Callaway have viewed the video.
“They were told what was on the jump drive and then the council, the consensus of the council was that we had given the chief clearance to run for sheriff and still maintain his job at the same time. So they reaffirmed that, but they did say that being able to utilize staff to help, or giving the appearance to utilize staff to help with the campaign, that he needed to be reprimanded about that,” Branch said.
TGV asked what policy was violated to warrant the discipline and if Kirkland was disciplined formally or if it was just a meeting for the purposes of a discussion.
A specific policy was not provided and Branch said it was a combination of a disciplinary matter and a discussion. No formal discipline was placed in Kirkland’s file, however. Branch said Kirkland was not on duty at the time, but that he is not allowed to use city staff for campaign activities.
“I did meet with Chief the next morning and I talked to him about it and I told him what the council had said and during our discussion he indicated that he, up until that time, I don’t think he knew how the video got out and was concerned about that, of course. So during our discussion the next day, he made the comment that he had determined who he felt like had access to the surveillance cameras and he had taken that particular person off of being able to have access,” Branch explained.
“As far as I was concerned, he had identified the problem,” he told TGV Wednesday.
Detailed Police Report on File at Claxton PD Names Suspected Party
According to the police report obtained in an Open Records Request, Chief Kirkland was asked to meet Mayor Branch at City Hall on December 20. At that time, Branch put a USB drive into the computer and displayed closed security camera footage from inside the Claxton Police Department building.
The contents of the video are not described in the report by Officer Jake Kraus, but the report indicates the security footage at Claxton PD’s headquarters is accessible “only through an app through a cellular device or through an installed program on a desktop computer.” In order to access the files, someone would have to have specific access to the account.
“Chief Kirkland contacted the Claxton Police Department’s former IT personnel Jamie Vickery inquiring if he could assist and informed him that an unknown offender had accessed the Claxton Police Department’s security footage. Chief Kirkland supplied a copy of the text messages between him and Mr. Vickery and are included in this report.* Mr. Vickery advised Chief Kirkland that he had deleted his access and could not assist.”
*Editor’s note: Due to the nature of the ongoing investigation, attachments, such as text messages, to the report were not provided in the Open Records Request.
The report goes on to explain that the new IT personnel, Jarod Duvall, contacted LT Security Inc. regarding the possible breach.
“LT Security Inc. advised Mr. Duvall that Mr. Vickery was still listed as the account administrator on the mobile access account for the Claxton Police Department. LT Security advised that since Mr. Vickery was the account administrator, Chief Kirkland or Lt. Waters would not be able to access the cameras through their app on their mobile devices if Mr. Vickery had disabled his account. Lt. Waters then advised LT Security Inc. to remove Mr. Vickery from the Claxton Police Department’s account. Once Mr. Vickery was removed from the account, Chief Kirkland and Lt. Waters mobile access was terminated.”
Translation: The deleting of access for Vickery as the administrator deleted access for everyone else in the Claxton PD who had access to the security footage under that account.
Vickery is no longer the IT personnel for the City of Claxton but does work for other agencies and local governments on a contract basis like Tattnall County, the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Reidsville, and the City of Glennville.
The report concludes with Kraus denoting that he obtained the USB drive from Mayor Branch and placed it into evidence. CPD then contacted the Atlantic Judicial Circuit’s Office of the District Attorney for advice on the next steps.
Mayor Canceling GBI Investigation
At some point, a GBI investigation was initiated to look into the unauthorized access to the cameras and security footage. According to a supplemental report with the Claxton Police Department, however, the Claxton mayor halted the GBI investigation after the holiday.
According to a supplemental report written by Kirkland and attached to the case file, Kirkland spoke with GBI Region 5 Special Agent in Charge Lindsay Smith about the investigation on January 3, 2024. Kirkland’s report says Smith stated:
“[s]he was contacted by Sheriff Edwards who stated that the assistance of the GBI was no longer needed because the mayor of Claxton did not want to pursue the investigation.”
In Georgia, only a Sheriff, a police chief, or a district attorney can request a GBI investigation. All have equal authority in asking the GBI to investigate, however.
When TheGeorgiaVirtue spoke with Branch Wednesday morning and he said, when contacted by Sheriff Mac Edwards about forwarding the investigation to the GBI, he thought the matter had been resolved and therefore the GBI was not necessary.
“Any future issues were avoided by deleting the account,” Branch told TheGeorgiaVirtue. He said when Edwards contacted him after he [Branch] and the Chief had met, that he [Branch] told Edwards that ‘since the steps had been taken to eliminate a future problem, we’d done our due diligence in trying to make sure this didn’t happen in the future. It was my position and the council’s position that we would just move forward and not have anymore discussion about it.”
Branch also said that he was unaware of the name ‘Jamie Vickery’ and that he was also unaware that “an internal” police report had been filed on the matter.
He concluded by saying, “I certainly am not negative about the police chief wanting the GBI to investigate it, that’s his prerogative of course. He’s the police chief.”
Kirkland Reinstates GBI Investigation
Kirkland’s report says he told SAC Smith that he was requesting their assistance to investigate the case.
“At this time, I contacted Chief Deputy Chris Moser asking for all paperwork and evidence associated with this case. Chief Deputy Moser brought all items requested to the Claxton Police Department. Later this day I was contacted by Special Agent Justin Jones who stated he would meet with me at 930 the following morning to discuss this case.”
GBI Confirms a Case is Open in the City of Claxton
The GBI confirmed Tuesday to TheGeorgiaVirtue that an investigation is active in the city. No additional information is available at this time.
12/19/23 – City Attorney ‘finds’ USB drive from closed security footage of Claxton PD and provides it to the mayor and mayor pro tem.
12/20/23 – Chief Dale Kirkland is asked to meet at the Mayor’s office at City Hall to discuss a video on a USB drive in possession of the mayor.
12/21/23 – Claxton PD turns the case file over to Evans County Sheriff Mac Edwards at the recommendation of the District Attorney’s Office.
1/3/24 – Kirkland is informed that GBI investigation was not going to be pursued due to a request by the Mayor; Kirkland reinstates GBI investigation
1/4/24 – Branch is contacted by GBI that an investigation was reinstated
1/4/24 – Claxton City Attorney Bill Callaway contacted the local newspaper to tip them off to the ongoing investigation
1/9/24 – GBI confirms to TheGeorgiaVirtue that the agency is working an investigation in Claxton
You can read the report in its entirety below.