May 10, 2002
By Rob Peecher
Eatonton --The Putnam County Department of Family and Children Services took five children into protective custody during Wednesday's law enforcement raid at the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors village.
The four girls and one boy taken into protective custody range in age from 13 to 16 years old, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said.
"We received information about these five children that was corroborated by others that caused us to seek out the protective order," Sills said. "We had an order from the Juvenile Court signed (by a judge) prior to going on the compound. The children, we suspect, are victims of child molestation."
Agents of the FBI, Putnam County sheriff's deputies and deputies from other sheriff's offices raided the village at 404 Shady Dale Road just after federal officers took Nuwaubian leader Malachi York, 56, and his wife, Kathy Johnson, 33, into custody in Baldwin County.
York and Johnson, who pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in a federal Magistrate Court, were arrested on warrants accusing them of transporting children for sexual purposes. York is accused in all four counts of the federal indictment and Johnson in one.
Additional state warrants accuse York of 10 counts of aggravated child molestation and Johnson with one count of aggravated child molestation. Those state warrants have not yet been served.
Middle District of Georgia U.S. Magistrate Judge Claude W. Hicks Jr. said the only possible plea for York and Johnson to enter during Thursday's hearing was not guilty, and Hicks said he will consider bond for the two in a hearing scheduled for Monday.
Hicks also provided York and Johnson with prison sentence ranges calculated by federal probation officers and based on federal sentencing guidelines. Johnson faces a sentence of between five years, 10 months and seven years, three months. York faces a sentence of between 11 years, three months and 14 years in a federal prison. Hicks added, though, that the ranges could change based on a review of the circumstances.
About a dozen of York's supporters attended the hearing, and one woman let out an audible gasp as York and Johnson were both led into the courtroom with restraints on their wrists and ankles.
During Thursday's hearing, York and Johnson both were represented by former state Sen. Leroy Johnson and his associate attorney Karen Haines. Hicks said he warns all co-defendants who come before him that using one attorney to represent both defendants has "pitfalls," as "competing interests" may arise during the course of the trial.
Wednesday's raid was prompted by state and federal search warrants giving law officers the authority to take control of the property and search it, but that search ended abruptly when authorities received information that Nuwaubians were preparing to retake the village by force, Sills said.
"The search was probably not as thorough as it could have been," Sills said. "The FBI received direct information that the Nuwaubians were going to arm themselves, mass and try to retake the compound. I immediately blocked the road again, and it was reported to me that we had a couple hundred of them massed at either side of the roadblocks."
Sills said that although he felt confident that the law enforcement presence at the village, which at that time consisted of about half of some 150 federal and local officers involved in the initial raid, could have prevailed in a confrontation, it would have meant "unnecessary bloodshed."
Authorities decided to conclude their search rather than risk a confrontation, Sills said.
Sills said he saw "maybe one-50th" of the potential evidence taken from the property, but he was aware of hundreds of videotapes being confiscated, computers and numerous weapons, ranging from handguns to assault rifles.
"In York's bedroom alone, there were at least three assault rifles and other assorted handguns and what I would call regular long guns," Sills said. "In their barn where the men live, they had a lot of (weapons) in it."
The evidence taken from the village is still in federal custody and has to be examined to determine its value, Sills said.
Omer Reid, president of the Baldwin County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, attended Thursday's hearing and reiterated statements made by some of York's supporters Wednesday.
"Nothing has been proven," Reid said. "There are only allegations ... I don't think (York's) character should be demeaned in any way."
Sills rebuked criticism by some of York's supporters that the raid was politically motivated or had to do with a desire on his part to "destroy the Nuwaubians."
"We have victims of what our society has always considered to be one of the most deplorable acts," Sills said. "The victims came to us. The victims tried to get help.
"I am charged with the duty to protect the lives, property and morals of the people of this county. Now, if a person charged with that duty carries out that duty Ð if that is in some way a vendetta or harassment, then those people need to examine their morals, if that's what they think."