ATHENS, Ga. — The police chief who fired one of his officers after he hit a fleeing suspect with his patrol car is defending his decision after Channel 2 investigative reporter Wendy Halloran obtained secret recordings of the chief that the fired officers attorney says contradict internal investigative documents released by the department.
Taylor Saulters was hired as a deputy with the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office on Monday, two days after he was dismissed by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
Police Chief Scott Freeman fired Saulters after reviewing body camera footage showing Saulters used his patrol car to hit the suspect, who was trying to run from his partner.
“At the end of the day, what we are left with is the incontrovertible evidence that is very clear on this bodycam footage of this incident," said Freeman.
Freeman met with his rank and file on Wednesday over the fallout from Saulters' firing, when came two days after a preliminary internal affairs investigative report was released. The report said, "Officer Saulters’ use of the patrol vehicle was a seizure of Patmon through a means intentionally applied and was not objectively reasonable based on the information that he had at the time when evaluated under Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)."
Some of the officers surreptitiously recorded Freeman's remarks.
Halloran, with the help of Saulters' attorney, Phillip Holloway, obtained recordings of what Freeman said.
This is how the meeting started:
Freeman said, “Before we get started, um, before we start, I want to get a sense of the feeling that you’re experiencing right now, and I want you to understand, um, that you can’t help how you feel. You can’t help how you’re thinking right now, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. And so if you want to share that, um, please feel free to do so at this time."
On the recording, there is silence. No one can be heard at that point offering up how they feel about the handling of this incident and their colleague's firing.
Then, Freeman said, "I want you to know, right from the very beginning, I do not think, regardless of what the GBI determines, that he intended to hit him. There's not a fiber in my body that believes that."
Halloran asked Freeman if he contradicted himself.
"I don't believe it's a contradiction in any way, shape or form," he said. "I told my police officers that it was not acceptable under any circumstances and I would not allow for our officers to have the perception that it was OK to use a police vehicle to chase down anybody in that same situation."
When asked by Halloran again if he had contradicted himself and why he had given his personal opinion,
Freeman said, “I don’t believe so and the reason I say that is my feelings are very subjective. It’s a very emotional part of what I do as a human being.”
Saulters' Marietta-based attorney, Phillip Holloway, takes exception to Freeman's conversation with his officers. He issued the following statement:
“I'm pleased that when confronted by his own officers Chief Freeman decided to tell the truth. However, this admission raises more questions about his true motive in deciding to fire Officer Saulters before any meaningful investigation had been done. Since it was not intentional then firing him was uncalled for. Whatever the case, it appears he's trying to maintain control of an agency that seems to have lost confidence in its leadership.”
Halloran read Holloway's entire statement to Freeman and asked him if he feels that he's lost the confidence of his officers.
“I certainly hope not. My police officers and the entire community, everyone sees that for what it is. It’s a difficult situation. I stand by my decision 100%,” said Freeman.
Freeman said that, if he had recorded the meeting, he would have supplied Halloran with a copy of the recording in its entirety. He said he would not try to find out which officers leaked the recording and that he had nothing to hide.
The suspect, Timmy Patmon, is a convicted felon who was wanted on a felony warrant. He was hospitalized with scrapes and bruises before being jailed on a probation violation and for obstruction of justice after fleeing from Officer Blackmon.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will determine if Saulters' actions were criminal in nature. Freeman said the Georgia State Patrol found Saulters at fault in the traffic-related part of this case.
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