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Newton DA declines to prosecute assault charges two made against deputies while filming
Newton County Sheriff's Office
Newton County Sheriff's Office headquarters on Alcovy Road. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Two men's actions surrounding the filming of videos at Newton County Sheriff's Office headquarters in recent months hurt their credibility to the point the district attorney believes a jury would be unable to find two deputies guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" of assaulting them.

District Attorney Randy McGinley on Friday, Dec. 3, said he was taking the unusual step of publicly releasing a detailed statement explaining how he decided actions by Joshua Brian Randolph and Roderick Sellers led to him finding his office would be unable to convince a jury the accused deputies were guilty of assaulting the two as they filmed their interactions in September and October at the facility on Alcovy Road.

McGinley said because of the "nature of the incidents" and numerous phone calls and emails his office received, in addition to social media comments and local media coverage, he found it "appropriate to make my decision and reasoning public."

Randolph, a Gainesville resident, uses a video camera to make "First Amendment audits" of sheriff's office and police department headquarters throughout Georgia for a YouTube channel called "Georgia Guardian." 

He accused Deputy Timothy Smith and Sheriff Ezell Brown of assaulting him and knocking his camera to the ground as he shot video outside the county's Law Enforcement Center Sept. 28. 

Randolph later filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff's office, accusing it of violating his constitutional rights. He also asked McGinley to investigate the incident for possible criminal charges.

McGinley said Randolph’s actions during and before the September incident in Newton County "show a consistent approach by Randolph of antagonizing and attempting to bait" law enforcement officers into taking action against him, McGinley wrote.

"Any prosecutor must evaluate how facts would be interpreted by a jury, not just how the prosecutor personally interprets them," he said. "Further, neither this office nor I shy away from prosecuting anyone based on their status in the community or a position they hold in the community."  

He said he compared the sheriff's office incident reports with Randolph's video of the incident and "nothing in the reports about this incident appears to be demonstratively false." 

"Mr. Randolph has suggested otherwise in his YouTube videos and in emails to me, but that appears to be based solely on his interpretation." 

McGinley said security "is of an upmost concern for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office" at the Law Enforcement Center. It houses both law enforcement officers and a jail with dozens of prisoners, including some convicted murderers, for which the sheriff is responsible for protecting.

"Randolph’s actions of filming into vehicles and the general nature of the area he was filming while wearing a mask and hat with only his eyes visible would reasonably cause concern even if later shown to be legitimate," McGinley wrote. "This includes filming cars; and it would not be unreasonable that someone could have believed he was looking into non-official vehicles as well. 

"Further, the video and path Randolph took starts to go to the secure area of the jail, meaning where the (building) pods are located behind the secure fencing areas, when he was approached by the Sheriff." 

He also said Randolph appeared to be seeking to make money from his actions either through appeals for money on his YouTube channel or "by fishing for a lawsuit, and not based on Randolph’s claimed concern about the Constitution." 

"Jurors tend not to give much credibility to situations where there is an obvious or even a perceived financial motive," McGinley wrote. 

In addition, Randolph's prior convictions for fraud related to a fraudulent Hall County newspaper business in 2013, for which he served more than six years in prison through March 2021; and prison time for a previous conviction for impersonating an officer would be a problem for a jury, the DA said. 

"People make mistakes," McGinley said. "However, the nature of his previous charges does not suggest that Randolph’s prior crimes were mistakes, but rather that he has a history of fraudulent activities."

Randolph responded on his YouTube channel that his prior convictions have nothing to do with a deputy's alleged violation of his lawful right to film in the public areas of a sheriff's office.

He also said McGinley's decision not to prosecute a law enforcement officer was part of a pattern of district attorneys being unwilling to prosecute officers in their judicial circuits because of close relationships between their offices. 

The DA, in his statement about his decision, also said a jury likely would not find a deputy guilty of assaulting Roderick Sellers in part because Sellers carried a sign calling the sheriff a derogatory name while filming in numerous areas outside and inside the lobby of the complex in October.

Sellers accused Maj. Sammy Banks of assaulting him when the officer pushed down a camera to see Sellers' face.

"Any jury would find Sellers’ interactions with Sheriff’s Office employees as at least rude, if not worse. Being rude or even cussing at an officer is not a crime. In my experience, however, it clearly would not be well received by a jury," McGinley wrote..

"A YouTube video posted by Sellers would be admissible at trial. In my opinion, a jury would not be impressed by this video well due to his mocking and telling individuals to “go ---- yourself. 

McGinley wrote that Banks "lightly, and non-aggressively attempts (to) move down the camera Sellers was holding in his hand so that Banks can look at Sellers’s face while speaking to him."

"Nothing from Maj. Banks’ interactions with Sellers even comes close to any crime ... reasonable people viewing the interaction would find that Maj. Banks acted appropriately in dealing with an individual who was being rude and appears to be more concerned about baiting someone than any legitimate concerns," the DA wrote.

Sellers, though, on Saturday said in a video he posted on YouTube that he planned to continue to pursue charges of Simple Battery against Banks and claimed McGinley's description of the incident proved Sellers' claim.

"I didn't want to put my hand down and he touched me intentionally," Sellers said.

Georgia law states a person is guilty of the crime of Simple Battery if he or she "intentionally makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with the person of another; or intentionally causes physical harm to another."