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Who's been secretly watching a courthouse employee at the Jackson County Courthouse in Scottsboro, Alabama?

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's State Bureau of Investigation has been asked to look into the discovery of a security camera allegedly trained on a county courthouse employee, according to a statement Monday by the Jackson County Commission.

In the statement, the four district commissioners called it inappropriate surveillance.

"The commissioners take this allegation very seriously and are providing full cooperation with the investigation," the statement reads.

"Neither these commissioners nor the courthouse security committee were aware of the placement of the particular camera involved in the present investigation," Monday's statement reads.

The Jackson County Commission includes Danny Rich of District 1, Jason Venable of District 2, A.J. Buckner of District 3, Kevin McBride of District 4 and commission chair Tim Guffey.

Commissioners first became aware of the suspicious camera Dec. 15 and "took steps the same day to have the [device] removed," officials state. "Until the investigation is complete, the commissioners will have no comment on whether or not the installation of this camera was warranted for legitimate security purposes."

State Bureau of Investigation officials didn't respond Monday to a request for comment on the pending investigation.

Jackson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen said Monday that the state agency was just notified Friday about the camera issue.

"They haven't officially told us that they accepted the case. It has to go through their chain of command before they accept it," Harnen said.

To avoid conflicts of interest, the sheriff's office is not involved in the investigation, but "we will assist with whatever they need us to do," he said.

Officials said cameras and sound equipment were installed over the years as part of a courthouse security plan created in response to several incidents there, including one in which a camera helped determine what happened when a courthouse officer fired on an armed man who tried to enter the building back in September 2019.

Authorities alleged that man, identified in previous Times Free Press reports as then-72-year-old Fred Swearengin, drew his weapon when confronted by officers staffing the metal detector at the courthouse's main entrance. An officer fired on Swearengin, striking him multiple times. Swearengin was reported missing in January 2020 and his body found just before he could be arrested on an indictment accusing him of first-degree assault in the courthouse shooting.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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