Attorney for fired officer says police chief rushed to judgment

The attorney for an Athens Clarke County police officer who was fired following the controversial takedown of a wanted fugitive is accusing police Chief Scott Freeman of a rush to judgment.

Marietta attorney Phillip Holloway said the decision to terminate Officer Taylor Saulters after he struck suspect Timmy Patmon was made before any internal affairs investigation had even begun.

“An inappropriate knee-jerk reaction, he didn’t wait for an investigation,” Holloway said.

Patmon suffered scrapes and bruises and was treated at a local hospital and then booked into the Clarke County jail. He was wanted on a probation violation and is now also charged with obstruction for fleeing from police.

Saulters father, police Capt. Jerry Saulters, is the head of the ACCPD investigative division. Holloway said Freeman told his command staff around noon Saturday that his son did not intentionally hit Patmon but that he would be fired.

“He called his father Capt. Saulters in and they talked about the case. The chief said it wasn’t intentional but nevertheless, Officer Saulters was going to be fired. The decision to terminate Officer Saulters had already been made by noon on Saturday,” Holloway said.

Freeman confirmed to Channel 2 investigative reporter Wendy Halloran that he met with several community members outraged over the incident before he fired Saulters. Holloway questions if the chief was pressured to fire Saulters. What's more, Holloway said his client did not speak to any investigators until later that afternoon and his first interview was with investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“I think it’s extremely unfair to Officer Saulters. A decision was made prematurely,” Holloway said.

Epifanio Rodriguez, ACCPD public information officer, told Halloran they did not believe it was intentional throughout the day Saturday. After the police body camera videos were released just after 6 p.m. that day, Rodriguez said Saulters violated policy for not having control of his vehicle and for driving without due regard for safety of all persons. Rodriguez said Saulters was negligent and that his negligence led to Patmon being struck.

The preliminary internal affairs investigative report reveals the following:

“Officer Saulters used poor judgment in using his patrol vehicle as a means to apprehend a fleeing suspect. Had the suspect committed an offense that would have warranted the use of deadly force, officer Saulters’ actions may have been objectively reasonable and would have been evaluated under such facts. There are no facts that were uncovered that would have led to the justification for this level of use of force in this incident.”

Holloway said not only was his client denied due process, the preliminary internal affairs investigative report released Monday contains what he termed “numerous fallacies and falsehoods.”

Holloway said it’s unclear when that document was generated as it has no date stamp.

Saulters hit a curb and a stop sign during his first attempt to block Patmon from escaping. That in turn caused the tire to flatten and bent the rim as Saulters continued his pursuit of the suspect. Holloway said his client had no way of knowing the damage to the patrol car and said that’s why Saulters didn’t have proper control of the vehicle.

Channel 2 Action News spoke with Freeman and he said when he watched the video, he knew he had a problem. "I saw something that disturbed me a lot," Freeman said.

He said Saulters made poor decisions and used poor judgment. The chief deftly answered criticisms from Holloway by saying: “This has not been an easy decision. No one individual or groups pressured me. The decision was mine and mine alone.”

A statement released Tuesday by the Athens anti-discrimination movement reads in part:

"No one is above the law. Athens anti-discrimination movement (AADM) board members and president Mokah Jasmine Johnson announces their support for Athens Clarke County’s police chief Scott freeman's decision to terminate officer Saulters after initially placing him on administrative leave. After viewing the video of Friday night’s incident; we were mutually horrified by what we saw. Saulters made a poor decision when he decided to use his patrol vehicle to stop a fleeing suspect. His job was to protect and serve; not to cause undue harm to an individual. Mr. Patmon may have been wanted, however, he did not deserve to be dehumanized and assaulted on the day in question.”

Saulters already has a new job. On Monday, Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel posted on his Facebook page that he hired Saulters.

“Taylor Saulters is our newest deputy. I have known him since he was a baby and I know he will be a great asset to our county. If his name sounds familiar it is probably due to the fact that he was recently terminated by ACCPD for an incident where a fleeing felon struck his patrol car while he was attempting to apprehend him. In talking to Saulters the first question he asked was if our citizens supported law enforcement. Without hesitation I assured him they did and that we have excellent people that live in our county. I have no reservations about Dep. Saulters serving this community. As a citizen of Oglethorpe County you will find the wisdom of this decision in getting a deputy of this caliber. If you still have concerns I will discuss them with you if you contact me. If you are not an Oglethorpe county resident, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Holloway said this is a testament to the fact that seasoned veteran law enforcement officials recognize the lawfulness of his client’s actions and the injustice of his termination.