DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 investigates accusations local police and sheriff’s deputies were double-dipping.
We uncovered law enforcement officers collecting and spending unemployment benefits while working full-time.
Channel 2′s Michael Seiden got a tip and spent three months digging into how it happened. He filed three open records requests with Douglasville police and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Channel 2 reviewed emails, an investigative report and videotaped interviews with deputies talking about the thousands of dollars they received in unemployment when their part-time jobs ended because of the pandemic.
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Our investigation found 11 officers received unemployment and six of them spent it.
“Just estimate how much did you take in?” asked a Douglas County Sheriff’s investigator during a videotaped internal affairs investigation interview.
“About $12,000,” replied Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy Kenneth Turner.
The purpose of the investigation was to get to the bottom of rumors that some officers were receiving unemployment benefits from their part-time jobs while working full-time.
The investigation found that six deputies with part-time jobs at the Dillard’s department store in Douglasville and a Carrolton gym received between $12,000 and $17,000 after the businesses closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown in March.
According to emails, five Douglasville police officers who worked at Dillard’s also collected unemployment benefits. But only one spent the money.
“You’re getting paid by the government two times, that’s double-dipping,” said retired law enforcement investigator Randy Rider.
He spent more than three decades in law enforcement, including eight years at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“It kills me. It hurts me. We all violate policies and procedures from time to time, but we don’t violate the law,” said Rider.
Only one of the deputies who received the unemployment benefits didn’t spend a dime.
When Sgt. Traci Sullivan received the money, she called a friend of a friend who works for the state.
“She said yeah I see that you’ve got a card and there’s money on it and I said well, I have a full-time job,” said Sgt. Sullivan in a videotaped interview.
Deputy Adam Kiker admitted to spending some of the $11,000 to $12,000 he received. But he told the investigator the Georgia Department of Labor said it was the state’s fault.
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“They’re not gonna bring any criminal charges because it was on the fault of the state. However, if we…” said Kiker in a videotaped interview.
“Did she say that, or did you present just your assumption?” asked the investigator.
“That’s what she said,” answered Kiker.
“She said it was the state’s fault you received it?” asked the investigator.
"Uh huh,' replied Kiker.
But that’s not what the Georgia Department of Labor told Channel 2 Action News in a statement.
“We established the Employer Filed Claims process to allow employers to file claims on behalf of their employees, greatly reducing the amount of time it would take to validate and pay employees unemployment benefits,” said Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “However, this process only works if all parties adhere to the instructions set forth in the guidelines. It is critical we receive accurate earned weekly wages for all employees to avoid a potential overpayment situation. The rules state that an employer must report any additional income the employee received during the week, including income from other employers, to truthfully attest to the accuracy of the data given to the GDOL. The employee is also responsible for reporting all earnings to the employer who is filing claims on his/her behalf. When these rules are followed, the Employer Filed Claims process is very successful.”
“So, in your opinion, they violated the public’s trust?” asked Seiden. “Yes sir, without a doubt,” replied Rider.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s investigator agreed, finding the five deputies who spent the money violated the policy for conduct unbecoming.
He wrote their “actions have the potential to destroy the public trust and respect of the organization.”
Douglasville Police did not open an internal affairs investigation and took no disciplinary action against the officers.
Both law enforcement agencies, Dillard’s and the gym declined Channel 2′s requests for an on-camera interview.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse, they’re law enforcement officers,” said Rider.
The officers who spent the money must repay it. They were told to set up payment plans with the Georgia Department of Labor.
They will not be criminally charged.