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Ga. sheriff leaving amid flap over jail, investments

ATLANTA -- Fulton County Sheriff Jackie Barrett will take paid leave for the rest of her term amid criticism of jail overcrowding and an investigation into her investment of $7.2 million of public money, her lawyers said yesterday.

Barrett, who became the nation's first elected black female sheriff when she won her first term in 1992, will begin the leave Aug. 1 and continue it until Dec. 31, when her term expires, the lawyers said.

Her lawyers said she is taking advantage of vacation and other accrued time through the end of her term. She will not seek reelection.

Manny Arora, one of her lawyers, said Barrett was taking the leave because the controversy was sidetracking her and would hurt her effectiveness.

''She has set her personal interests aside for the betterment of the county," Arora said. ''All she wants to do is stop the bitterness."

The announcement came two weeks after the governor appointed a panel to determine whether Barrett should be suspended over allegations including alleged criminal misconduct, overcrowding, and potentially dangerous situations at the Fulton County Jail. The facility was designed for about 1,400 inmates but averages more than 3,000.

On Wednesday, a federal judge removed Barrett from control of the jail after a consultant concluded it was in a crisis.

A federal investigation is focusing on Barrett's investments, which lost about $2 million, and campaign contributions to Barrett from businessmen who stood to gain from those investments.

Further, an inmate escaped from a maximum-security wing of the jail last month while guards were serving as extras during the making of a rap video.

Barrett declined to comment yesterday.

It was not clear yesterday whether a replacement sheriff would be appointed.

Barrett's civil lawyer, Ted Lackland, said Barrett thinks she has been blamed for jail conditions she cannot control. He said that extra inmates transferred by the state had caused overcrowding.

The federal judge was told Thursday that 82 convicted criminals have been transferred from the county jail to a state prison and that 92 more should be removed in a week.

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