Ex-chief of FBI's Northwest Georgia sex crimes task force faces criminal probe

Ex-chief of FBI's Northwest Georgia sex crimes task force faces criminal probe

August 13th, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Cobb County, Ga., Superior Court Senior Judge Grant Brantley reschedules preliminary hearings to allow FBI time to investigate Special Agent Ken Hillman while at Catoosa County Superior Court. The hearings for 10 defendants are scheduled for Feb. 10 but will most likely be moved. The defense dropped a motion to disqualify Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, and motions to access to the state's camera, audio and computer files have been delayed six months.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

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Defense attorney David Dunn, right, speaks with his clients Brandon Keith White, left, and Robert Allen Murphy, right, Monday morning. Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge Grant Brantley rescheduled preliminary hearings to allow FBI time to investigate Special Agent Ken Hillman while at Catoosa County Superior Court on Monday.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

The former head of the FBI's Northwest Georgia Crimes Against Children Task Force is under criminal investigation because of that operation.

On Monday morning, Judge Grant Brantley agreed in Walker County, Ga., court to delay hearings related to the child sex sting for at least six months. He did so because he has learned that the FBI is investigating whether Special Agent Ken Hillman lied on an affidavit for a related case.

The investigation could take about six months, the bureau has said. Hillman was in charge of a task force that looked for potential child molesters online. The group would go on websites like Craigslist and pretend to be parents offering their children to strangers for sex. Then, if those strangers showed up to the appointed location at the appointed time, officers would arrest them.

But 10 cases -- mostly from last year -- are under scrutiny. A former task force member has said that Hillman let Angela Russell, the estranged wife of millionaire Emerson Russell, participate in parts of the sting. She even reportedly put handcuffs on a suspect.

In addition to the criminal investigation, the FBI is looking into whether Hillman broke nine of the bureau's policies. Most of these allegations deal with his relationship with Russell, though the FBI is also looking into whether Hillman misused his authority while driving drunk.

On Monday, the defense attorneys originally planned to argue about certain procedures in preparation for these trials -- whenever those may be. Among other things, the attorneys want access to the computers used by the task force during the sting. They also want to look at the personnel files of the task force members.

"We have agreed to put things aside for six months and see if it has been concluded," public defender David Dunn said of the FBI's investigation.

Prior to Monday, the defense attorneys also said they wanted to disqualify Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin from prosecuting the case. The defense has said Franklin's office faces a conflict of interest in trying these cases because one of his assistant district attorneys is married to a former task force member.

On Monday, the defense attorneys announced that they would withdraw their motion to dismiss Franklin. But that could change in six months.

For now, the hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Catoosa County, Ga. But Brantley already knows this won't work; he will be out of town that day. He plans to reschedule the hearing closer to February.

"We know it will be moved," he said Monday. "We just don't know when."

After delaying the pretrial hearing for six more months, Brantley denied a request to set a bond for Brandon Keith White, one of the men arrested in the sting operation. White was arrested on charges of criminal attempt to commit child molestation.

Dunn, his attorney, argued that holding White without a bond is unfair, seeing that the pretrial hearing has been pushed back six months, another six months during which he must stay in jail unconvicted.

Brantley reduced the bond of Robert Allen Murphy from $30,000 to $20,000. Dunn had requested that Murphy's bond be dropped to zero, as he has no money and no family in the area to bail him out.

Contact Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.