by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - A review board has given an Atlanta police officer his job back, despite a record of complaints so bad the chief terminated him and doesn't want him back on the force.
Officer Nicholas Dimauro was caught on camera repeatedly punching a suspect in 2011. He was fired but rejoined the Atlanta Police Department earlier this month after winning an appeal with the city's Civil Service Board. The board agreed that he used unnecessary force, but reduced his punishment based in part on his disciplinary history.
But a Channel 2 Action News investigation found the record of discipline the board reviewed didn't tell the whole story.
"To this very day, I'm still scared," Clemmin Davis told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Davis was driving his girlfriend's car in southwest Atlanta and about to turn into a gas station, when he saw the blue lights. The traffic stop was for an expired tag. Davis pulled over, but said he got worried when his passengers took off running.
"At that point, I was scared. I didn't know what to do, if he left weapons or drugs or anything in the vehicle," said Davis.
Davis ran too, but lost his breath and collapsed in some nearby woods. What happened next was captured by a passerby's cellphone video.
"They were just kicking me, you know just beating me. I was trying to say, ‘Here go my hands,’ to give up so they could stop beating me. They just kept beating me though," said Davis.
Officer Brian Thomas admitted kicking Davis several times, and resigned while under investigation. The department suspended Officer Joshua Lowery for two days. Dimauro, seen punching Davis several times, was fired.
"If I had to make the same decision, I'd make it again," said Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, "I believe the officers could have handled that situation completely different."
Turner said he takes termination very seriously, and considered Dimauro's history with the department.
"There were multiple disciplinary issues that were in his file, and that was one of the main reasons that we came to that conclusion," said Turner, "And obviously the actions of this particular case was pretty egregious."
But Atlanta's Civil Service Board disagreed and reduced Dimauro's firing to a 30-day suspension. It looked at his “sustained discipline history,” which would not have shown his 10 prior unnecessary force complaints; those were all listed as unsustained.
Fleischer filed an open records request for the actual internal affairs findings, and found three of them were originally sustained by the investigator, and later changed by the department.
In one of those, Dimauro was even recommended for termination, but that was reversed too.
"How can they even think about giving this man his job back? That's unreal," said Davis.
He said he still can't stomach watching the cellphone video of the encounter.
"I'm thinking they're trying to kill me. Look at me, how little I am. I don't weigh that much, and they did me like that. Just, I thought I was going to lose my life," Davis said.
Fleischer made numerous attempts to get Dimauro's side of the story. In a phone conversation, Dimauro initially said he wanted to do an interview defending his actions and his record. He later called Fleischer back to say the police department would not allow him do the interview.
Fleischer called a department spokesman to follow up, and the spokesman said that was not true. He said Dimauro indicated he did not want to do an interview, so the request was never passed up the chain of command.
Dimauro did not answer the door, when Fleischer visited his home. He also turned to avoid a Channel 2 camera outside the police academy.
"Unfortunately, all of your questions have to get referred to my union lawyer," Dimauro said.
His lawyer cancelled a scheduled interview and sent an email reading in part, “The record speaks for itself,” and that Dimauro is “anxious to put this matter behind him.”
Fleischer asked Chief Turner if it's frustrating to have to take back an officer he fired.
"You know it's part of the process. All of our officers have due process and that's part of the process," said Turner.
Dimauro will receive back pay for the year he was gone, and is now assigned to the police academy renewing his training before he goes back on patrol.
"They're letting him off and is there any kind of justice going to be served? This is pitiful. This is not right," said Davis.
Dimauro and Thomas are both still under investigation by Georgia's Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), the state agency which certifies officers.
The council could vote to revoke their police certifications, then neither would be able to work as officers anywhere.