A statewide Channel 2 Action News/Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation shows 15 percent of school district police officers in Georgia have troubled pasts. That's twice the rate of officers working in city and county police departments.
The officers were investigated for things such as excessive force, lying, theft or even sexual misconduct at one of their earlier jobs, but are working this school year in Georgia public schools.
Here are just a few examples:
- Stephen Stripling, who, according to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.), worked as a Richmond County Board of Education police officer this school year. But before he was hired there, the state investigated an accusation against him for domestic violence. Records say in 2008, he "...pulled the spouse out of a vehicle, and dragged her for a short distance, pushed the spouse on the bed and choked her, and pulling the phone cord out of the wall when the spouse attempted to call 911." The alleged victim declined to prosecute, according to state records. Stripling resigned in lieu of termination from the Augusta University Police Department.
- Arthur Bryant, who, state records show, works at the Chatham County Public School System. Before he started working for the school district, he was fired from the Waycross police department and convicted of furnishing alcohol to a minor, according to a state investigative summary. The summary also said Bryant was accused of getting a teenager pregnant. The teenager's parents would not tell authorities her whereabouts. The state investigative summary said "On 2-22-02, an agency investigator who handles crimes against children was contacted by the subject officer [Bryant] who asked about statutory rape laws and penalties. The officer specifically asked what would be done if a 15-year-old had been impregnated by a 30-year-old." No criminal charges were filed against Bryant.
- Sylvester Robinson, who works for the Clayton County School System. He started there after DeKalb County fired him. His termination letter called his actions in 2014 at Clarkston High School "egregious." DeKalb records show Robinson punched a co-worker in the face, then sprayed him with pepper spray. Robinson wouldn't talk to Channel 2 Action News, but told investigators the other guy acted "....as if he was going to attack me." Clayton Schools hired Robinson three months later.
Clayton County schools has one of the highest rates in the state of officers with red flags in their pasts. Some 27 percent of officers there have either been previously investigated by the state, fired from a police job, resigned in lieu of termination or resigned while under investigation.
Clayton Schools had to scramble to start a police department from scratch in 2013, when the sheriff said he was going to pull his officers out of schools.
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School Chief Thomas Trawick, who's been on the job less than a year, told Channel 2 and the AJC that he noticed the red flags after researching his employees' personnel files. Trawick says he's changed screening procedures for hiring officers in the future and he's beefed up training for officers on the force.
"Let's be quite honest: yes, we might have made a mistake by hiring those officers," Trawick said. But he added, "Doesn't a person deserve a second chance?"
Gwinnett County Schools Police Chief Wayne Rickard told us he believes in second chances, too -- just not for officers who work in schools.
"If we look on there and they have any kind of P.O.S.T. investigation, we would not look at them any further," Rickard said. "We just feel like, why take a chance?"
Gwinnett has one of the largest school police departments in the state, nearly double that of Clayton's, but we found zero officers ever investigated by P.O.S.T. or forced out of another department.
When school departments hire an officer with a previous red flag, it can end badly.
Warren Favors worked at the Dougherty County School system in 2014 when school security cameras caught him grabbing a 15-year-old from behind, throwing him to the floor and punching him repeatedly. The teen admitted to taunting the officer earlier in the day. Favors fractured the teenager's arm in two places.
When Dougherty County Schools hired him, he'd already been forced out of another job for "dishonesty." While he denied it, he resigned in lieu of termination, and P.O.S.T. put him on probation for two years.
He was still on probation when Dougherty County Schools hired him.
The school system fired Favors after the violent run-in with the teenager in 2014. He can't work as a police officer anywhere now because P.O.S.T. revoked his certification.
State Senator Emanuel Jones says the state can't tell a local school district who to hire, but it can mandate that those officers get specialized training. He sponsored a bill to require 40 hours of school-specific training for any officer who works in a school in Georgia. The governor signed the bill this month.
"Our kids are some of the most vulnerable people in society right now and they're not fully developed and a lot of times that very first interaction that a kid has with a police officer is going to be in their school," Jones told Channel 2 Action News.
He added that if we can require students to follow a code of conduct, "We certainly should do the same for school-resource officers."
Cox Media Group