WARNER ROBINS — A Houston County grand jury will be asked to review an Oct. 7 incident in which the Warner Robins city clerk and another employee are accused of attempting to gain access into the mayor’s office, District Attorney Kelly Burke said.
Whether the grand jury will be asked to consider any criminal charges in its review of the incident has not yet been determined, Burke said.
City Clerk Stan Martin and Chris Armstrong, an information technology employee, remain on administrative leave with pay while the incident is being investigated, City Attorney Jim Elliott said.
Martin and Armstrong are accused of attempting to gain access into the mayor’s office through the ceiling tiles from a connecting office at 5:20 p.m. Oct. 7, Burke said. They did not enter the office, Burke said. The locks on the mayor’s office were changed after the Sept. 28 death of Mayor Donald Walker.
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The mayor’s office was in the process of being cleaned out, and the only item that had not been touched was the mayor’s computer, Burke said. Although City Hall was closed, custodial and maintenance staff were on site, and Martin and Armstrong were allegedly seen with a flashlight and a ladder, Burke said.
Martin has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Martin’s lawyer, Bo Sammons, said he believed the incident was much ado about nothing.
In the first explanation of the incident from Martin’s camp — Martin and his lawyer have declined to go into specifics about the incident during the past two months — Sammons told The Telegraph on Wednesday that Martin was simply trying to quell a rumor.
According to Sammons, another city employee repeatedly insisted to Martin that something was hidden in the ceiling above the mayor’s office — a notion that Martin dismissed as “ridiculous.” The employee persisted, so Martin offered to show the employee the space above the ceiling tiles to prove nothing was there.
Martin, Sammons said, got a ladder and a flashlight about 5 p.m. and took the employee with him to an office adjoining the mayor’s office. He then put the ladder against the wall, handed the employee the flashlight, and said, in Sammons’ words, “Go look.”
Martin then replaced the ladder and returned to work. Sammons said Martin thought nothing more about the incident until he received a call the next day from Mayor John Havrilla.
Sammons declined to name the employee. Armstrong was the only other person on the city’s payroll placed on leave in connection with the incident.
The GBI’s report of its investigation of the incident was turned over to the District Attorney’s Office at the close of business Tuesday. Burke said the report remains part of an ongoing investigation.
Sammons questioned the continued investigation, based on a conversation he said he had with GBI investigators late last week.
“They indicated to me in pretty strong terms that they didn’t find evidence of any crime,” Sammons said.
Burke said he will review the report, ask for any follow-up from the GBI or his staff, and then make a determination as to the facts of the case.
Burke will meet behind closed doors Dec. 21 with the mayor and council to talk about how the investigation affects the city. He said the meeting is closed to the public because it involves personnel. Burke said he met with Havrilla and Elliott about the matter Tuesday morning. Elliott said Burke basically let them know that the GBI report had been received and went over the timeline.
Burke said he will take the investigation before the grand jury Dec. 22 “in order to foster confidence in government” by having the 23-member panel review it.
“I don’t know why (Burke) wants the grand jury to look at it,” said Sammons, who insisted Martin had no sinister intentions. “I don’t know why he wants City Council to look at it.”
Gary Rothwell, special agent in charge of the GBI Office in Perry, referred comment to Burke.
Burke asked the GBI to assist by taking over the investigation after it became clear that his office, which has two investigators, would not be able to handle all the interviews the investigation would require in a timely manner. The DA’s office was asked to investigate the alleged incident by Havrilla.
As a result of the incident, Walker’s computer was “taken into custody” for “an abundance of caution,” Burke said.
Burke said he was asked to remove the computer by Havrilla, who Burke said desired an impartial investigation.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.