At one point two years ago, then-Hall County Fire Chief Jeff Hood believed his deputy chief was spying on him and that surveillance cameras and listening devices were being employed to do so, according to a Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigative report obtained by The Times.
The day after Hood’s complaint to county officials in April 2016, former arson investigator Lt. Dax Lewis told investigators he had “fabricated the entire story, including the cameras,” according to the report.
“He advised that he heard rumors that the chief’s house was being watched. He went to help the chief by locating the devices. Once he arrived and began looking, he found nothing. This embarrassed him so he fabricated the story about finding the cameras to impress and garner favor with the chief,” according to the investigative report.
Lewis was charged with making false statements and misdemeanor obstruction of an officer. The Hall County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the false statements charge, and Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction. He was sentenced March 13 to 12 months of probation and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution to the Sheriff’s Office.
Lewis was terminated following his arrest in 2016.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office declined to share information about the case after Lewis’ arrest. The investigative report became available following Lewis’ conviction.
Lewis and Lewis’ attorney Adam Harkness did not return a request for comment by The Times.
Obtained earlier this month by The Times through an open records request, the 2016 report detailed disagreements among top fire department officials.
County spokeswoman Katie Crumley, human resources director Bill Moats and county administrator Jock Connell sat down for an interview in January to discuss issues with the fire department.
Since that interview, Crumley and county officials have declined repeated interview requests regarding other issues with the department.
The Times has been unable to reach Hood.
According to the report, former Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dick Mecum contacted the Sheriff’s Office about a complaint from Hood regarding surveillance devices around his house and vehicle.
“In the meeting, Chief Hood explained that a ‘narc’ informed him his house was being monitored by cameras placed at the direction of Assistant Fire Chief Chad Black,” according to the report.
Black told The Times all of the allegations regarding him contained within the investigative report were false.
“When I retired, I retired and left all that behind,” Black said.
The investigators asked Hood why anyone would want to put him under surveillance, and Hood mentioned a “tiff” between Black and himself regarding promotion decisions.
“Chief Hood said there was also a 72-page complaint sent to (former) county administrator, Randy Knighton, and Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix. Chief Hood advised the county administrators were currently conducting an inquiry into the complaints stated on the 72-page complaint document. Chief Hood stated he found it odd that Deputy Chief Black was one of the first individuals to be interviewed by Randy Knighton and Marty Nix,” according to the report.
Crumley, Connell and Moats discussed the complaint letter, which was given to Nix on March 10, 2016, and signed as “300.”
“This is real. Much of this is still happening as you read this,” the anonymous letter stated. “This is a call for help. This is an official notification of an atmosphere of possible illegal, immoral, and unethical behaviors. Ones not worthy of wearing the patch of Hall County.”
Connell said he had taken the letter as a piece of information and “tied it together” with one-on-one and group interviews he was doing with members of the department.
“We had interviews, and in that case we had some people get demoted and reallocated to what they were doing,” Moats said in the previous interview.
Crumley said Tuesday they would not comment on an anonymous letter, saying it was taken seriously when received by officials.
According to the report, Lewis told Hood there was “possibly cameras pointed toward his residence and a listening device had been placed in his vehicle with a microphone routed up through the air conditioning vent.”
Hood and Lewis went to Hood’s home, and Lewis advised Hood to go inside and let Lewis “handle the situation,” according to the report.
“Chief Hood stated, a short time later, Lt. Lewis came back to the residence holding several SD (memory) cards, which Lt. Lewis had already cut up,” according to the report.
When Hood asked where the cameras were, Lewis said “they fell in the lake, as if to suggest he threw them in the lake to get rid of them,” according to the report.
Lewis showed Hood an electronic device and asked him for tape, according to the report.
“He stated that he used an old camera of his and passed it off as an alleged listening device to the chief telling him he removed it from his vehicle,” according to the report.
The report then stated, “Lt. Lewis wrapped the device in a plastic bag and used green masking tape to secure a rock to the device. Chief Hood advised he and Lt. Lewis went to a dock near the chief’s home and threw the device in the water.”
When investigators interviewed Lewis how he learned about the cameras, the lieutenant said he had an informant inside the department he had used in past arson investigations.
Later in the interview, Lewis said there was no single informant but several firefighters spreading rumors, and he couldn’t remember who talked about the cameras.
The county’s dive team went to recover the cameras and listening device, and a Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad unit was deployed to surveil Hood’s residence “in the event the actual individuals who placed the cameras found out about the investigation” and tried to get the devices, according to the report.
The camera was later recovered by the dive team.
According to the report, Hood also told investigators he saw a former firefighter and current firefighter coming out of the street where he lives, which is a dead-end dirt road.
“Chief Hood said he found it odd that the very next day is when Lt. Lewis began texting him about the surveillance devices at his house,” according to the report.
On April 27, 2016, Lewis reportedly called the investigators to say he was “going to stop wasting everyone’s time” and said he fabricated the story about finding the cameras.
Crumley could not provide the amount of resources used to investigate the Lewis case, saying the sheriff's office was the investigative body.