Sheriffs Investigation Clears McDaniel Aide, Supporters As Campaign Goes Dark
JACKSON, Mississippi — A local sheriffs office cleared a Chris McDaniel aide and two supporters following an investigation into why they were locked in a courthouse at 3:00am on election night, even as questions about the incident persist.
“The Hinds County Sheriff’s Office has concluded its investigation into why three tea party members with ties to the Chris McDaniel campaign were found locked inside of a Hinds County Courthouse,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Based on our findings and subsequent conclusion, there is no reason to believe that the three individuals engaged in any criminal activity nor do we believe any laws were broken.”
The Sheriff’s office statement adds that “no one was apprehended in this process and as it stands, this investigation is closed.”
Other than a brief statement that did not explain details such as what time the group of McDaniel supporters arrived at the courthouse – it was locked down at 11:30pm, according to the Sheriff's office – McDaniel's campaign has declined to answer any questions about the incident on the record.
Kay Skipper, a local conservative activist, told Breitbart News she was with the two McDaniel supporters, Tea Party activist Janis Lane and longtime GOP operative Rob Chambers, on election night shortly before they traveled to the courthouse. Leaving from the McDaniel victory party in Hattiesburg, Lane had been on the phone with McDaniel aide, Scott Brewster, whose exact whereabouts are still unknown.
At the time, “the big subject was: ‘Why was Rankin County not reporting 100 percent? And why was Hinds County not reporting 100 percent?’” Skipper said.
En route to the courthouse in a car, Lane called Pete Perry, the Hinds County GOP chairman and a “close Cochran ally” according to the McDaniel campaign, around 12:30 a.m. and left a voicemail, Skipper said.
“Basically, she said not all the votes were reported,” Rachel Skipper, Kay’s daughter who was also in the car, said. “She wanted to know what was going on and basically was asking him to call her back.”
After the hour-or-so drive back to Richland, MS, just south of Jackson, from Hattiesburg, the car dropped Lane and Chambers off at Lane’s car right near the McDonald’s in Richland. Lane and Chambers departed to the courthouse, and the Skippers and others in that car headed back to Ridgeland, MS, north of Jackson.
Lane and Chambers were dropped off at about 1:30 a.m. and the courthouse in Hinds County was about 20 minutes away, putting their arrival there close to 2:00 a.m.
Skipper said that based on the conversations she heard while in the car with two people who would later end up locked in the courthouse, their intentions, in her judgement, were not nefarious.
“I can judge people fairly easily and very rarely am I wrong: All of these people are nice people. They really didn’t have any way of knowing if they counted all the votes,” Skipper said.
What precisely happened at the courthouse is still murky.
McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch issued a statement late Wednesday saying the group “entered the courthouse through an open door after being directed by uniformed personnel. They were then locked inside the building. At this point they sat down and called the county Republican chairman, a close Cochran ally, to help them get out. Eventually a Sheriff's officer showed up and opened the door to let them out.”
Hinds County Sheriff spokesman Othor Cain told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger earlier on Thursday that the Sheriff’s office did not let them in or point them to the open door, a sentiment the sheriff’s office doubled down on in its late Thursday statement to media clearing the McDaniel supporters of any allegations of wrongdoing.
“Our investigation revealed that the three individuals were able to enter the courthouse through a side-door marked for employees only. This door was either propped-open or was malfunctioning at the time of entry,” the statement reads, before adding: “Contrary to earlier reports, no uniformed personnel and more specifically, no employee of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office assisted these individuals with gaining access to the courthouse.”
A sheriff’s department officer on scene at the courthouse Thursday afternoon told Breitbart News he’s “not sure” if any uniformed officer from either his department or the Jackson Police Department for the City of Jackson—which has headquarters right next door to the courthouse—may have directed them to an open door.
An officer manning the front desk at the Jackson PD headquarters told Breitbart News in person Thursday afternoon that the city’s police spokeswoman went home for the day already, but provided a phone number for the chief of police’s office. When “Officer Sutton,” who answered the phone number provided but wouldn’t provide her first name, was asked to comment on the situation, she said: "I'm not saying nothing. You're gonna have to call Hinds County.”
When asked whether the Jackson Police Department could rule out its officers having communicated with the McDaniel supporters before they went in to the building, she replied: “No, I can't categorically deny anything” and hung up the phone.
The doors to the courthouse have magnet locks that require a special key fob or card to get in or out, meaning that if an open door had closed on the group, they would have been locked in.
The McDaniel campaign has said the group called Perry shortly after they entered the building, but has not provided what time the call was made. Perry told the Clarion-Ledger the call was around 2 a.m., so that would have been within minutes of them getting inside according to this timeline.
The Sheriff's office said they were eventually let out of the building at 3:45am.
While Perry hasn’t responded to Breitbart News’ request for an interview, he raised concerns about why the group was in the courthouse on election night.
"I don't care who it is,” Perry told the Clarion Ledger for the paper’s original story. “I have a concern with someone being in the courthouse with all the election material down there.”