By Kristal Dixon | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | January 23, 2020
One day after Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren denied he removed a local newspaper from the county jail, he has changed his answer. He now says the paper was not distributed because an unflattering article could have posed a security risk.\
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia issued a press release Wednesday saying it received information that Warren allegedly told jail staff to remove copies of the Jan. 12 edition of the Marietta Daily Journal from the Cobb Adult Detention Center and that the paper had been banned.
The article in that edition of the paper recounts complaints of cruel and inhumane treatment inmates say they have received inside the jail and includes denials from jail officials. An attorney for the ACLU said removing the paper could constitute a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and of the press.
In a statement to the AJC through his lobbyist Wednesday, Warren “emphatically” denied the ACLU’s allegations, and said the ACLU was misleading the public. “The ACLU continues in their attempt to mislead, spin and or inflame issues that are baseless in fact but potentially harmful in their affect,” his statement read.
However, in a separate statement given only to the Marietta Daily Journal on Wednesday, Warren confirmed the Jan. 12 edition containing the article was not distributed inside the jail “due to its possible impact on the safety and security of our staff and inmates.”
Asked why two different newspapers received two different answers, the Cobb Sheriff’s Office did not respond directly. Cobb Sheriff’s Office spokesman Glenn Daniel said the department’s “one-time interruption” of providing copies of the paper to inmates and staff does not mean a ban has been implemented.
The Marietta Daily Journal also did not respond to the AJC’s request for comment.
ACLU staff attorney Kosha Tucker said while she’s relieved that Warren hasn’t implemented a complete ban on the local paper, she’s still concerned because of the “potential arbitrariness” of the sheriff’s decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that inmates have the right to read a “wide variety of books and literature” under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the ACLU has said. Tucker said Warren’s actions are alarming because it appears he used his own prejudices as a “controlling standard.”
“I would like to know if the sheriff has policies that inform what gets rejected and what is deemed acceptable content,” she said.
Sheriff Warren, who has been in office since 2005 and is running for re-election to a fifth term, has come under fire from the ACLU and other community activists for the seven inmate deaths reported since December 2018.
The deaths, along with a month-long lockdown, have sparked criticism from residents and families, local activists and civil rights organizations, which are calling on the sheriff to address their concerns about medical care for inmates and jail staffing levels.