Police chief accused of cover-up in teen shooting replaced

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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UNION CITY, Ga. - The embattled Union City police chief, accused by some of covering for an officer in a controversial deadly shooting, has been replaced.
 
But the ousting of Chief Charles Odom leaves behind major questions as to how he left, why he left, even exactly when he left.
 
Initially, sources told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer that Odom was forced out after 25 years on the job.
 
Publicly, the city has said Odom resigned voluntarily.
 
But Mayor Vince Williams admitted to Fleischer that the city told the chief his services were no longer needed.
 
"I knew that he wouldn't be reappointed," said Williams, "That was something that certainly we all knew was needed."
 
Union City has since appointed retired Fulton County police Chief Cassandra Jones as interim chief.
 
Odom was in the hotseat in 2015 after a Channel 2 Action News - Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation revealed accusations that he helped cover for the officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Ariston Waiters.
 
"When you're the chief of police, there are standards you should abide by, no matter what," said Freda Waiters, Ariston's mother.
 
Freda Waiters says Odom failed the community and her son, who was shot in the back by police Officer Luther Lewis in 2011. She's relieved to hear Odom is no longer chief.
 
"I was happy, grateful, thankful, but still got a long fight," said Freda Waiters.
 
Last May, the investigation featured officers who said Odom bragged about keeping Lewis out of prison, directed a lieutenant not to write a statement about Ariston Waiters' death, and failed to ever investigate the shooting for policy violations.
 
"What bothers me the most is the corruption. It's so blatant," said Freda Waiters.
 
The day after Channel 2's story, the public gathered outside City Hall and rallied for Odom's termination.
 
"Out who? Odom. Out who? Odom," they chanted, led by State Sen. Vincent Fort.
 
Eight months later, Odom is out. But Williams says that's not the reason.
 
"This decision had nothing to do with the Waiters' case," he claimed.
 
Williams pointed out that two grand juries cleared Lewis in the shooting.
 
It's unclear whether the grand juries ever considered Odom's actions.
 
The mayor says Odom's issues were lack of leadership, bad morale and a need for community trust.
 
Community activist Marcus Coleman isn't convinced.

"It doesn't matter to me what they call it. And I think the people will see that for themselves."
 
Coleman met with Williams in late November specifically to call for the chief's firing. He says the mayor was receptive and promised change.
 
"It looks like he's a man of his word," said Coleman, "It could be a stockpile of things but is Ariston Waiters at the nucleus, absolutely."
 
The investigation exposed records showing Odom failed to investigate concerns Lewis may have had post-traumatic stress disorder prior to the Waiters shooting.

 Two prior accusations of lying, including an internal affairs investigation, were absent from Lewis' disciplinary file that Odom provided.
 
"The fact that he was accused of a cover-up was not a factor?" Fleischer asked Williams.
 
"It was not a major factor. It was a factor in the back of my head," replied Williams, eventually acknowledging that the shooting was one of his concerns.
 
What's even more baffling, though, is why the mayor is calling Odom's departure "voluntary," when it clearly wasn't.
 
"It was unanimous, Mr. Odom was not going to be reappointed," admitted Williams.
 
Georgia's Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) maintains certification and employment records for all Georgia officers.
 
A document filed by the city said Odom voluntarily retired effective Dec. 31, but when Fleischer filed an open records request on Jan. 8, Union City officials replied that Odom was still the current chief.
 
His own Facebook page says he retired at the end of 2015.
 
"It was a surprise to me, surprise to our HR department," said Williams, adding that Odom was technically on the job through Jan. 11, even though he didn't physically report to work after Dec. 31.
 
Odom did not return a call for comment.
 
"No one has been totally honest, so why expect the truth now?" said Waiters.
 
The POST director is now looking into the situation, because if Odom actually resigned in lieu of termination, that would trigger an automatic state investigation, which could also include the original cover-up allegations.
 
Freda Waiters said the way Odom left doesn't really matter.

"He didn't do it in May when I was there, but he did it now," she said. "For me, I'm happy. But I still have a long ways to go."
 
She hopes a pending U.S. Department of Justice investigation also looks at Odom and the cover-up allegations in her son's case.
 
"The mere fact that even up until now, no accountability. That's unreal."