COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones was indicted Tuesday by a Muscogee County Grand Jury on nine counts of misconduct while in office, according to the indictment obtained by News 3.
Jones took office on Jan. 1, 2021 and the indictment accuses him of the following criminal acts in his first eight months in office:
- Two counts of influencing a witness
- Two counts of bribery
- Two counts of violation of oath by public officer
- Two counts of attempted violation of oath by public officer
- One count attempted subornation of perjury
Jones was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the case was brought to the Grand Jury by the Georgia Attorney General’s Prosecution Division.
News 3 attempted to reach Jones at his Government Center office shortly after the indictment was filed in the Superior Court clerk’s office. He was not available.
“It is important for the citizens of Georgia to know that our office will not hesitate to enforce the rule of law, including when it involves the actions of a public official,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “We appreciate the critical role and service of the Muscogee County Grand Jury, and we thank the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for their hard work in this investigation. We look forward to presenting our case in Court.”
The judge in charge of the Grand Jury was a senior Superior Court judge from outside of the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.
The indictment on the alleged offenses connected to the performance of his official duties will trigger a possible suspension of Jones under Georgia Code.
Under OCGA 45-5-6 if the district attorney is indicted, the governor appoints a three-member commission within 14 days. That commission then has 14 days to report to the governor. If the commission recommends suspension, then the governor, in this case, Republican Brian Kemp, would appoint someone to fill the office.
The commission would normally consist of two Georgia-sitting district attorneys and the attorney general.
Since the indictment was presented by Republican Attorney General Chris Carr’s office, the third spot would be filled by a retired Georgia Supreme Court justice or Court of Appeals judge, according to state law.
Under Georgia law, the district attorney, as an elected official, has the right to appeal back to the governor.
To read all of the counts and alleged criminal conduct, you can see the indictment below:
Jones was booked into the Muscogee County Jail around 3 p.m., and released around 7 p.m. the same evening, Sept. 7.
Upon his release he spoke to News 3 about the indictments.
“Just kind of shocked. You know, I’ve been on the job nine months, fight really hard for the people. We’re trying cases and then this happens. So, I need to get a copy of the indictments, see what they’re saying— you know what they’re alleging— I haven’t seen a copy of that. I’ve only seen the list of charges. So that’s the extent of my knowledge. And I don’t know anything else about it other than that but I didn’t take any bribe, I didn’t influence any witness. I didn’t try to suborn perjury so I don’t know what they’re talking about.”
A bench warrant has been issued for Jones’ arrest. Senior Superior Court Judge Joe Bishop, assigned to the case, set the condition that Jones not use alcohol and post a bond of $10,000.
Previous legal troubles
The most recent indictment comes as Jones is already in legal hot water. He is facing two felony charges on unrelated matters. Jones is scheduled for trial in Muscogee County Superior Court on Sept. 13 for multiple charges related to alleged damage to the Columbus Civic Center during the taping of a campaign video in May 2020.
Jones got a DUI charge on Nov. 11, 2019. That case is pending and Jones is facing a felony charge because the DUI involved a vehicle crash and one person suffered an injury.
Jones admits he ran a non-traditional campaign for the most traditional of jobs. And in June 2020, he said he would fight the felony charges on the Civic Center case. If convicted those charges would disqualify him from the office.
“We will be ready and we will have both barrels pointed at whoever wants to bring that case,” he said at the time. “We are going to fight hard because we are not going to let anything jeopardize this DA’s seat. We took it for the people. It’s going to remain the peoples. I will make sure of that.”
He had a hearing on that case late last week and Bibb County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Monroe declined to dismiss the charges, despite a motion from Jones claiming it was a malicious and politically motivated case.
That May 2020 campaign video and criminal charges that stemmed from it, set the stage for the final months of the campaign and beyond.
Using local rap artist Jawga Boi, Jones pushed one of his primary platforms, the legalization of marijuana.
“Freedom and legalize weed,” Jawga Boi sang. “The people’s DA who we need. Mark Jones, right now.”
Jones played to the camera in the video, and it played a certain part of the electorate that pushed Jones closer to the top law enforcement official in Muscogee County.
But drone shots in that video showed cars doing donuts in the Civic Center parking lot, leaving skid marks from the burning rubber.
Four of those involved in the video, from a campaign social media consultant to the drivers of the vehicles laying the drag were charged with felonies along with Jones.
Jones turned his May 28, 2020 arrest into a campaign event. He aired a Facebook livestream while on his way to turn himself into Columbus Police.
He was wearing a bulletproof vest as officers handcuffed him in front of a media scrum at the Public Safety Building.
Jones’ attorney Chris Breault began to build the framework for a social medial campaign that would play out in the final two weeks of Jones’ Democratic Primary race against three-term incumbent Julia Slater.
“After closely examining the facts and evidence, it is clear that the charges involved in this case are FABRICATED,” Breault posted in part on Facebook. “A false narrative is being pushed by some in the mainstream media and their friends in the legal community. It comes 13 days before the contested election for district attorney of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit. Mr. Jones is being arrested and charged with FELONIES (allegedly) because a car in the Civic Center parking lot did some donuts AFTER the video shoot for a positive-message hip hop song that was created for the purpose of motivating younger people to engage in the Democratic process.”
Jones spent about 24 hours in the Muscogee County Jail before bonding out. Not long after his release, he held a campaign rally in front of his then law office in the shadow of the Government Center.
Wins the Democratic primary
Jones defeated Slater in the June 9, 2020 primary. There was no Republican opposition, so Jones was the presumptive DA-elect six months before taking office.
Jones was officially elected in November 2020, the same week he was indicted on felony criminal damage to public property charges relating to the campaign video shot in the Civic Center parking lot.
Breault said it was all a move to handcuff Jones when he took office.
“It is very difficult to retain good people,” Breault said on Sept. 3. “For the most part, you are not going to have lawyers from Macon, Atlanta, Savannah, wanting to come to Columbus to work under an indicted DA. That was the whole goal. That’s why they indicted the case on election day. It was supposed to be the day he actually won the election.”
A week after being elected, Jones was clear what his intention was in an interview with News 3. Jones made it clear he was going to shake things up in the courthouse.
“I don’t see how changing just one person at the top is going to affect the change that we need,” he said.
That means staff.
“I caught some flak on that on election night when I said they were all going to have to re-interview,” Jones said. “I still stand by that. Obviously, there is some dysfunction in the office. Obviously, the cases aren’t moving. And the voters sent a clear mandate.”
Jones made good on his promise a month before taking over. Breault managed the transition and in December 2020, a number of the veteran prosecutors were told they would not be retained when Jones took office on January 1.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker, Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly and Assistant District Attorneys Ray Daniel. George Lipscomb, Wesley Lambertus, Kimberly Schwartz, and Wayne Jernigan were all let go.
Lipscomb and Schwartz were later rehired by Jones. Schwartz scored one of the biggest wins for Jones’ office. As the lead prosecutor, she secured a guilty verdict against Brandon Senior in the August 2017 daylight execution of Tamir Harris in North Highland.
Schwartz and Chief Assistant District Attorney Sheneka Jones Terry were named in the indictment. It alleges on the two bribery charges that Sheneka Jones Terry and Schwartz were offered $1,000 each to secure convictions in murder cases. In Schwartz’s situation, the case was not ready for trial, the indictment stated.
The Arreola case
Following his swearing-in in January of 2021 Jones quickly took a stance on the high-profile Columbus case that alleged three Columbus Police Officers were responsible for the death of Hector Arreola who died in Police Custody in 2017. It was first announced in February by the Columbus Chapter of the NAACP that Jones would seek to bring the case in front of a grand jury.
In June of 2021, Jones announced he would appoint a special prosecutor to help him present the high-profile case in front of a grand jury. He later announced this special prosecutor would be Chris Breault. Jones said he appointed Breault to help him navigate the unique challenges prosecuting police officers can bring.
“They have certain procedural, I guess safeguards in our law that make it really difficult to indict them, to go after them when something goes wrong,” said Jones. “So, you know that’s one of my campaign promises was to hold police accountable so that’s what I want to do.”
The Arreolas’ civil case against the three officers was settled in July of 2021 for $500,000, just weeks before the August 9th trial date. There has been no word of whether Jones still has plans to bring these officers in front of a grand jury.
When Jones took office, he touted his record as never having lost a case as a private attorney. It has not been as easy as district attorney.
In April, Jones failed to get a conviction in a murder case when the jury hung it 8-4 for acquittal. Jones drew the ire of Superior County Judge Ron Mullins twice during the trial of Drevon Johnson, accused of killing Richard Collier in 2016.
Mullins questioned a Facebook post that Jones admitted to making. In the post, the district attorney said he wished he could tell the jury about Johnson’s prior criminal convictions.
Defense attorney Anthony Johnson told the court it was highly inappropriate, and he objected.
Mullins asked Jones why he made such a post. The district attorney answered, “First amendment.”
Jones told the judge he would delete the post. The post in question was made from his personal account to the personal Facebook page of the victim’s sister.
In early August, Jones prosecuted a man accused of child molestation and exploitation of children. The defendant was acquitted on all charges by a jury.
Superior Court Judge Art Smith admonished Jones multiple times for using a slang term for the male reproductive organ, multiple witnesses told News 3. Also, defense attorney Michael Garner moved for a mistrial during closing arguments when Jones off-handedly accused Garner of drug use in front of the jury.
The motion for a mistrial became moot when the jury acquitted the defendant.