Questions about refunds up in the air over ticket troubles

by: Erica Byfield Updated:

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MCDONOUGH, Ga. - Since Channel 2 Action News exposed more than a decade’s worth of ticket trouble in the city of McDonough, we've learned dozens of people are demanding their money back.

The police chief assured us his city would do the right thing, but Channel 2’s Erica Byfield found some drivers have concerns about the role he will play in the process.
 
We’ve confirmed Preston Dorsey is not just McDonough’s chief of police; he also oversees the city's municipal court. He says his circumstances do not present a conflict of interest.
 
Every single driver Channel 2’s Erica Byfield tracked down who got a bad ticket from the city of McDonough said the same thing.
 
“I want my money back,” said Scotty Williams.
 
“I think it would be nice if they paid everyone back,” said Jesse Rapier.
 
The answer no one in the Henry County city could give Byfield is if a refund would happen.
 
Channel 2 first revealed in February problems with thousands of tickets McDonough officers issued, but Dorsey said: “The city will do the right thing.”
 
He declined to go on camera for the latest story. We’ve learned along with police, Dorsey, who became police chief in 1997, oversees McDonough’s city court. Some drivers and a legal expert Byfield talked to think that is an issue. 
 
“Whether that person has any influence on the court system, just the appearance of that is not right,” said civil rights and criminal attorney Parag Shah.
 
By phone, Dorsey disagreed. He said he supervises all full- and part-time courtroom staff but would never tell the city's judge what do to. It took Channel 2 months of scouring through citation information to uncover the ticket trouble. From it, the station confirmed three key facts.
 
One, in Georgia, any road patrolled by radar or laser must be tested by GDOT. Two, the Department of Public Safety must ultimately approve the streets, and finally, for at least the last decade, McDonough officers used radar or laser on 16 roads where they shouldn't have.

Dorsey told us it was a mistake.
 
“Why did you use radar on streets that weren't approved?” asked Byfield.
 
“That, I don’t have the answer, but I hope to find that answer soon,” Dorsey said. “We'll correct the issue and move forward.  Hopefully, this won't happen again.”
 
Of the 16 streets, Industrial Boulevard jumped out. Byfield discovered in the last five years, police issued 1,376 citations on street and made at least $165 in the process. Her findings led the state to launch an investigation.
 
She learned Georgia Department of Transportation has a 2002 list of streets on file for McDonough that differs from what the Department of Public Safety has.
 
A McDonough officer told Dorsey about the problem last March. Even so, he didn't call for an internal investigation until December.
 
In Byfield’s phone conversation, Dorsey said since Channel 2’s story aired, more than 50 wrongly ticketed drivers have demanded their money back. He added what happens next is up to the city's mayor and council.
 
Channel 2 was in the room when he spoke to them about the issue within the last week. Shah believes most of the people who got tickets may be out of luck. In Georgia, drivers only have 180 days to challenge a ticket and officers started giving out bad tickets in 2002.
 
Shah said there is one way the drivers could get another day in court.
 
“Hopefully the solicitor’s office there will do the right thing and allow these people to reopen their case,” Shah said.
 
Meanwhile, Dorsey’s officers no longer run radar on the 16 streets in question. He also told Byfield he isn't the only chief in Georgia who oversees courts and police. Byfield called and found a few small cities with the same practice. The state's investigation is not over.


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