“This is a vote of confidence that… I am honorable and ethical sheriff”

A Gwinnett County grand jury on Friday chose not to indict Sheriff Jim Carsten on criminal charges of refusing to receive three Lawrenceville inmates to the county jail last September.

Carsten, who testified before the grand jury, was facing six felony counts and one misdemeanor charge for refusing those prisoners.

The sheriff presented his side of the case to jurors, and they voted not to indict him on any of the charges.

Instead, the grand jury issued a special presentment starting the sheriff’s department and city of Lawrenceville have problems communicating and cooperating.

The grand jury spent about four hours reviewing the charges and hearing from witnesses.

“I think this shows the citizens heard the facts,” Carsten said. “I think this is a vote of confidence that in fact I am an honorable and ethical sheriff. And, I think it’s a vote of confidence that I’m the type of sheriff they continue to want to serve in this office.”

The turning point, he said, was his testimony about the “facts” of the case.

“I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong … The district attorney is an honorable man and he did what he thought was right. He did his job. I did what I needed to do and I did mu job,” Carsten said.

District Attorney Danny Porter said after the proceedings that he had done what he was required by law to do, present the charges to the grand jury.

“The sheriff characterized this as personal,” Porter said. “It’s not personal.

“My job is to present the evidence.”

The District attorney said the charges were never politically motivated, as the sheriff claimed in earlier interviews, Porter believes Carsten alleged that his actions were political because the case originated with Lawrenceville prisoners, and there has been a long-standing dispute between the sheriff’s office and the city police department about housing prisoners. Lawrenceville Police Chief Butch Conway is an announced candidate for sheriff in this year’s elections.

The conflict began when Carsten took office in 1993 and demanded that Lawrenceville pay $90,000 in back inmate housing charges. The dispute was eventually settled when Lawrenceville paid the $90,000 bill and county officials returned $10,000 of it because they said the city had ocerpaid.

“He attributed motives that were not there,” Porter said of Carsten’s allegations.

If Carsten were to refuse another prisoner tonight, Porter would investigate again, as the law requires, he said.

In their special presentment, the grand jurors said “we discovered a problem existed between the city of Lawrenceville and the sheriff’s department regarding the refusal of the county to house prisoners. While no criminal intent was found, we did find a problem of communication and lack of cooperation among the entities involved. In order to avoid future problems, we strongly recommend that contracts should be in place between the local municipality and the county regarding the housing of city prisoners.”

When the three Lawrenceville prisoners were refused admittance to the jail in late September, Carsten said he did not accept city-sentenced prisoners without a signed inmate housing agreement. However, seven Lawrenceville prisoners were housed in the county jail during September and one was still there when the others were refused admittance.

Documents provided by the sheriff’s office in September showed Snellville to be the only city in the county to have a written contract with the sheriff’s department.

In September, commission Chairman Wayne Hill also recalled a verbal agreement he and other commissioners had made with Lawrenceville when they decided all cities would be treated the same.

“I don’t know why the sheriff didn’t know, but it was in the papers at the time. It was a big deal and everybody knew,” Hill said in September.

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