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Charges dismissed after tussle between sheriff, Gainesville man who was filming at Newton County parking lot
1026Joshua Brian Randolph
Joshua Brian Randolph

Editor’s note: This article is being published with permission from The Covington News. It includes additional information from The Times archives.

A Gainesville man convicted in 2013 of numerous counts of theft and forgery related to operating a fraudulent newspaper was arrested in Covington after shooting video of vehicles in the parking lot of the Newton County Law Enforcement Center.

Joshua Randolph, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to 49 charges, was charged in September with loitering or prowling and obstruction of an officer. 

But the Newton County District Attorney's office on Oct. 25 dismissed charges against Randolph because of “insufficient evidence to prove the guilt" of Randolph "beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to The Covington News.

Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown told The Covington News that he made a "conscious decision for the safety and security of staff members and the correctional center" to order the arrest of a man shooting video of vehicles in the parking lot of the county Law Enforcement Center on Sept. 28.

In an incident report, Brown also stated Randolph pushed a video camera toward him and put his hand in his pocket before Brown struck a tripod the man was holding causing Randolph to drop objects in his hand — apparently a camera and phones — to the ground. Randolph, who had one cellphone, was reaching for another cellphone in his pocket, Brown said.

Randolph, who operates a YouTube channel under the name Georgia Guardian, recently filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging Brown and Deputy Timothy Smith "smashed" the man's film equipment while he was filming a news segment for his social media pages. Smith also used excessive force against him after handcuffing and arresting him, Randolph alleged in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges his First, Fourth, and 14th Amendment rights were violated and the law enforcement officers broke Georgia law when they seized his camera equipment and brought criminal charges against him for "filming in public places" Sept. 28 near the Newton County Law Enforcement Center and Detention Center on Alcovy Road.

Brown reported he first saw Randolph wearing a black cap, dark windbreaker and dark, full face covering. He was holding a camera and shooting video of different banners at the entrance to the Newton County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff reported.

The sheriff first thought it was the sheriff's office's webmaster or a recruit — before seeing the same person "going from vehicle to vehicle in the parking lot of the Law Enforcement Center.”

The man "continued to do likewise with other vehicles" which were "mainly the sheriff's office staffs' personal vehicles," Brown said.

"At this point, it became very apparent after observing a black ball cap and to see the subject leaning forward recording the badge number in front of Lt. Courtney Morrison's county-issued vehicle," Brown said. "The subject then stood and continued to pan the inside of the vehicle, and then other unmarked county-issued vehicles in the same area."

He said Randolph then panned the camera to "what appeared to be the secure area of the Law Enforcement Center."

Brown said in the report he asked Randolph what he was doing and he replied he was shooting video but declined to say why he was shooting it. 

He reported he told Randolph to leave the property and stop recording, and "the subject then goes to take his right hand and reach into his pocket, while pushing the camera closer into my space."

Brown said he then "struck the subject's tripod, forcing the subject's left hand over his right hand, forcing all of the objects out of his hands onto the ground. It was then revealed the object he retrieved out of his pocket was another cellphone." 

In a separate report, Smith said Randolph "became confrontational and argumentative to the sheriff and myself while attempting to film and take more pictures" after they had told him "five or more times to stop and leave the property."

"The subject blatantly disregarded all commands given," Smith said in his report. "The subject stated that he was a journalist, a news reporter covering a story but refused to give any details on the story."

Randolph disputes the details of a number of incidents Brown and Smith wrote about in their reports. He said the video he shot details his confrontation with Brown and Smith before he dropped the camera.

On videos posted on his Georgia Guardian YouTube page, Randolph typically does a "First Amendment audit" at the headquarters of a Georgia police department or sheriff's office and shoots video of the vehicles and equipment on site.

His videos also have documented his stops at police or sheriff's departments in Douglas, Oconee, Greene, Barrow and Lincoln counties, and the cities of Winder, Cumming, Eatonton and Braselton, among others.

In 2013, Randolph, then 26, pleaded guilty to six counts of theft by taking, with two of them felony charges; six counts of forgery in the first degree; one count of forgery in the third degree; and one count in the fourth degree. He also pleaded guilty to 18 counts of theft of services, four counts of identification theft, 11 counts of financial transaction card fraud, one count of theft by deception and one count of security interest violation.

Then Oakwood investigator Danny Sridej told The Times in 2013 that Randolph started a newspaper, posting a website and social media accounts under the Gainesville Observer name. Randolph, going by the name “Kevin Cobb,” hired nine people, said Sridej, who believes the employees worked for Randolph for no more than two or three weeks.

Some of the theft by services charges related to payment to those employees, including two reporters, an editor and an administrative services employee.

He was sentenced by Hall County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver to 25 years, with the first eight in prison and the rest on probation. One of the conditions of probation was that he must pay restitution totaling $47,780.27.