ATLANTA — Two police officers testified on Wednesday that Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields ordered an undercover investigation to see if an APD employee was destroying requests for public records.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher learned that the department used hidden cameras and fabricated documents to fire the employee.
Wednesday’s testimony came during an appeal hearing for Francine Williams, a civilian APD employee, fired for destroying an open records request from a prison inmate.
Turns out that request was written by a police officer who worked in the same office. It was a test for Williams and APD concluded she failed.
Trying to get her job back, Williams admitted that she destroyed a request from an inmate, but said it was a duplicate request that had already being handled.
“I gave that to somebody already. Put that one in the recycle bin,” Williams said.
The letter in dispute was written by an officer who said she’d become suspicious of Williams.
“Ms. Williams, Francine, she was saying that she was going to shred some documents. And I didn’t agree with that,” Atlanta police Officer Tracy Ricks said.
Ricks said she wrote to Chief Shields to share her concerns, but Williams’ attorney pressed Ricks about why she didn’t tell the chief that Williams was shredding documents.
The police lieutenant who headed the investigation said secretly placed cameras captured Williams destroying the fabricated inmate letter, but he testified the recent cyberattack destroyed the video.
The head of internal affairs said firing Williams was warranted.
“They were an act against the Open Records Law, and that was an embarrassment and discredit to our department,” Maj. Celeste Murphy with the Atlanta Police Department said.
The city attorney defending Williams’ firing called the officer who went to the chief a brave whistleblower.
Williams’ attorney said the city fired her over a fabricated records request.
“This is not even one that needed to be filled because it didn’t come from Jurdis Nelson. So what responsibility does anyone have to fill a fake request?” attorney Ash Joshi told Belcher.
The handling of open records requests is an especially sensitive issue at City Hall right now because of the ongoing Georgia Bureau of Investigation's criminal investigation of the way those requests were handled by former Mayor Kasim Reed's press office.
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