The co-owner of the Atmore News is facing criminal charges and ethics violation charges after a grand jury investigation in Escambia County.
Sherry Digmon, 72, is charged with two ethics violations and a charge of revealing grand jury information.
Digmon, also an Escambia County School Board member, is accused of using her position for personal gain and selling in excess of $2,500 worth of ads to the paper she has a financial interest in. The grand jury indicted Digmon on November 1.
The indictment came just days before Digmon and a reporter were arrested for revealing some of the information that came out during the grand jury investigation.
According to court documents, Digmon is accused of approving an article that contained grand jury information and allowing it to be printed.
The article at the center of the investigation is one written by Don Fletcher, who was also arrested. The article was about investigations surrounding the Escambia County Board of Education, of which Digmon is a member. Veronica "Ashley" Fore, the county school system's payroll and insurance bookkeeper, was also arrested for the leaking of information.
District Attorney Steve Billy and Sheriff Heath Jackson could not speak on details due to Alabama's Secret Grand Jury Proceedings. Revealing grand jury secrets is a felony under Alabama Criminal Code Section 12-16-215 and carries a penalty of up to three years and a $5,000 fine.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on officials to drop the charges against Digmon, Fletcher and Fore.
Before his arrests, Fletcher told 1819 News that someone put the court documents in the mailbox at the Atmore News office.
He said the information included subpoenas and search warrants that contained some of the details of an investigation and what investigators were looking for.
"I thought oh my God, I can't believe it," Fletcher told 1819 News.
However, Alabama law prohibits witnesses or grand jury reporters from disclosing, directly or indirectly, knowledge or information about a grand jury's questions, consideration, debate, opinion or vote on a case or evidence.
Fletcher said it has made reporting about the Board of Education "awkward" because the newspaper's owner is on the BOE, but he said Digmon has always made it a point to avoid speaking to him about education issues. He said she did not want it to appear as if there was any wrongdoing.
Billy told 1819 News that irresponsible reporting of rumors and a possible conflict of interest have led to inaccurate information being published. He said some of the things reported about statements he made during a BOE meeting were even fabricated.
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